Chris Pronger called last season the year from Hell. Injuries kept him out for all but 53 games, including playoffs, and the Flyers were not the same team without him. While a lot of people blame last year's poor playoff performance on goaltending or whatever else, I firmly believe a lot of it had to do with missing No. 20.
If last season was the year from Hell, though, what is this year? And what about the next five years of his contract?
The Flyers announced tonight that, after Pronger met with concussion experts at UPMC in Pittsburgh, he'll be out for the season with "severe" post-concussion syndrome. I don't know the difference between severe post-concussion syndrome and regular old post-concussion syndrome, which I also assumed was pretty bad. But this obviously is horrible news.
The Flyers are without their best defenseman -- their captain -- for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
It's been at least an hour since the news came out as of this writing, and I still have that sinking pit feeling in my stomach. It's just a total blow to the gut, even if we kind of all knew this was a possibility anyway. I don't think we assumed it'd become this bad this quick, and now we have to deal with the reality. It absolutely sucks in every single way.
It's really tough to round up the emotions on this one. You feel bad for Chris Pronger himself, one of the best defensemen to ever play the game, and a man who clearly doesn't deal with sitting out of the lineup all that well. You feel bad for the entire team, because they all know how much Pronger means to their club, and without him, there's no hiding the gaping hole on the blueline and in the locker room.
The first reaction, really, is one of "I told you so." I don't think there's a Flyers fan in the world that actually thought Pronger would finish out his lengthy contract, which still has five years remaining on it after this one. I don't think Pronger thought he'd finish that deal, and I don't think Paul Holmgren did either.
But we always assumed Pronger's downfall would come thanks to one of those "hey, I'm just old" injuries. A bum knee. A bad back. That's not the case here. It's a concussion, and that can really happen to anybody. It could happen to an old dude, a young dude, a baby girl, Claude Giroux or Chris Pronger. It's the kind of injury that doesn't discriminate, and that's also part of what's so awful about it.
At the same time, we have to be careful to jump to conclusions. It all sounds very bad, but a lot of people are talking tonight like this is the end of Pronger's career. Like he'll never play another game in the NHL. Hell, every one of those paragraphs I just wrote sounds a lot like that. It's a natural reaction, I think, and it's one that's based in a lot of fear. I'm sure Pronger is having the same exact thoughts tonight as he sits and watches the game against the Canadiens from his couch.
In reality, that could very well be the case, but that's something we don't know for sure now. Concussions and head injuries are bizarre things, and who knows how this will go. I doubt the doctors even know for sure.
There's a lot more wait and see here for us. There's the long-term question: What will become of Chris Pronger's career? What will become of his 35-plus contract if he can never play again? (Although we know the answer to that -- ask Ian Laperriere and Mike Rathje.)
There's short-term question: What will Paul Holmgren do to replace him right now?
There's mid-term question: How will the Flyers fare the rest of the year knowing that they're without their captain?
We'll have plenty of time in the coming days to think about what the next step is, but for now, it's hard to get past just how much this sucks. In every possible way. Get well soon, Prongs.