PHILADELPHIA — Chris Pronger might not book a client of his family’s blossoming boutique travel agency business into the NHL bubble. But if Pronger were stuck in one of the league’s hub cities for an extended period, the Hall of Famer knows what he would pack.
”You just put a picture up of what’s at the end of the road,” Pronger said. ”You’ve got to look from a short-term perspective how finite a career is. On the extreme side, how often do you have these opportunities?”
Pronger, a Hockey Hall of Famer, played in the Stanley Cup Final with three teams and won it all with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He had a chance – albeit, a minuscule one – to win another as an executive with the Florida Panthers.
The 45-year-old Pronger, one of the more intimidating defenseman in league history, resigned his position earlier this month as senior vice president of hockey operations. Pronger spent three years with the franchise, and he left with the Panthers set to play a best-of-five elimination series against the Islanders in Toronto.
The Panthers are in a unique spot – the No. 1 draft pick is still up for grabs in a second lottery drawing among the eight teams that lose in the qualifying round of the playoffs.
Pronger put his executive hat back on for a moment and hoped the Panthers went all the way.
”You want to win,” Pronger said. ”You want your players to gain that experience and get that opportunity to win. Depending on where you are for your cycle for your team, you either really believe you can win or you don’t.”
The timing of his departure wasn’t great, but no one expected summer hockey and Pronger felt the pull to join his wife and her Well Inspired Travels luxury travel company (think elite athletes, CEO’s, wealthy business owners).
Pronger had considered stepping away from the Panthers for more than a year and said there was no ill will toward general manager Dale Tallon or anyone else in the organization. He said Tallon understood the decision and was appreciative of his contributions with the Panthers.
After a lifetime in hockey, Pronger just wanted a break from the grind and to help Lauren Pronger’s agency flourish.
”I think for me and where we’re at with our business, my full attention need to be here on this,” Pronger said. ”Running and managing it and building it day to day. I couldn’t be kind of looking over for a little bit. You’ve got to be invested in whatever you’re doing. Ultimately, this was something I wanted to do with my life and help grow and build.”
Pronger laughed when he said running a travel agency during a pandemic ”presents its challenges” but that he was in the business for the long haul.
The Panthers are in the playoffs for the first time since they lost a six-game series against the Islanders in 2016. Florida has not won a playoff series in four tries since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s third season in 1996. They’ll play on without Pronger.
”I’m not a big fan of watching from the top,” Pronger said. ”You just have no control over anything. You put the players in place and then after that, you’re really out of it.”
Next season, Pronger will be the eighth player in St. Louis Blues history to have his number retired. The five-time All-Star was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1993 draft and played in the Stanley Cup finals with Edmonton, Anaheim and Philadelphia. He helped lead the Flyers to the Eastern Conference title in 2010 and pairs again Wednesday night with former teammate Danny Briere and other former Flyers greats for a virtual wine tasting benefiting Snider Hockey.
Pronger’s career was derailed by concussions, and he once suffered bedridden days in dark rooms to ease throbbing headaches and occasional bouts of depression. These days, Pronger says he feels better and has nothing more than tired eyes, though ”some of that is age.”
”Overall I’m doing pretty good,” he said. ”Every once in a while I do too much and it becomes a bit of an issue. But it’s nothing that’s not manageable.”
Even on the heels of his with the split with the Panthers, Pronger will keep an eye on the postseason.
”I’m still a hockey fan,” Pronger said. ”You don’t spend 28 years in the business and then just drop everything.”