Another side to the tragedy of Chris Pronger

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 8: Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers speaks to the press during media availability for the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 8, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

It's worth noting that things aren't yet over for Chris Pronger. There is still hope that he could re-join the Philadelphia Flyers at some point, but things seem really bleak. There's been little-to-no real improvement in his status since he first left the lineup early this past season with a concussion, and as each day passes, the apparent chance of him playing hockey again seems to diminish.

The last update we have on Pronger came from Paul Holmgren at his season-ending press conference on May 10.

"He's doing probably the same and any chance of returning, I would say your guess is as good as mine. Probably prior to July 1, we'll make an assessment on where he's at. I'm still, as it relates to Chris and as much as anything else, I'm a glass is half full kind of guy. I believe he's going to play, but I don't know. I don't have anything to back that up."

In a nutshell: We have no clue, but we're praying and hoping for him. Discouraging.

But despite scares after a giant moving truck was seen outside his South Jersey house, he's not retiring from hockey. That's what Holmgren told the Inquirer late Thursday, and it makes sense.

He can't retire. And that's really part of what makes this all so sad.

Nicklas Lidstrom retired on Thursday. He's one of the best defensemen to ever play this game, and he's still at the top of the sport. He won the Norris Trophy last season, yet he's decided to retire because he doesn't feel like he's at the same level any more. He went out on his own terms, something every elite athlete hopes to do.

Yet for Pronger, another future Hall of Famer who's dominated the game for the better part of two decades much like Lidstrom, it doesn't appear as though the same dignified end is in order. His injury seems as though it will rob him of both the ability to go out on top and the finality of actual retirement.

The Flyers circumvented the CBA back in 2009 when they signed Pronger to his salary cap. The league didn't crack down on them, but they absolutely circumvented it by giving him a long seven-year contract, finishing it off with two seasons at the league minimum salary at the back of the deal. That action brought the total annual cap hit down from $6.68 million to just $4.92 million.

Because Pronger's deal went into effect after he turned 35, the Flyers must pay that $4.92 million against the cap for all seven years of the deal, regardless of whether or not Pronger retires. This rule is in place to stop teams from circumventing the cap in the way the Flyers did -- because it doesn't make sense to pay nearly $5 million for a player over 40 years old.

The only loophole around that is long-term injury reserve, which is getting the Flyers by right now. The catch is that Pronger will have to stay on LTIR until 2017, meaning he can't officially retire. It's just like Ian Laperriere, who finally comes off the Flyers payroll on July 1 and hasn't been able to officially retire until now even though we've all known since 2010 that his career was over.

We kind of always expected this in some way with Pronger, too. Nobody expected him to finish out his seven-year contract with the Flyers, especially since he'll be earning $525,000 to play in those last two seasons. But one or two years isn't necessarily a big deal.

If Pronger can't return to the ice from this current injury, and there's not much that makes us hopeful at the moment, five years will have passed between his retirement and his last hockey game. Five years will have passed between his last game and his first chance to truly say goodbye, at least publicly, to hockey.

That proud, dignified press conference -- it bordered on ceremony, really -- we saw Nicklas Lidstrom hold on Thursday morning? It's something Chris Pronger might never get the chance to do, and that's one of the true tragedies of his injury.

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