There's a great piece in The Hockey News this week on Chris Pronger, his current role with the Flyers, his health and what his future holds. Reading the whole thing is worth your time.
Right now, we're going to focus in on one quote in the piece from Paul Holmgren:
"I'll say it, Chris is never going to play again," said Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. "I have no problems saying it."
We know this. It's not news that Chris Pronger will never play hockey again. But it is news that the team is admitting the fact. The Flyers and Paul Holmgren have never explicitly said that Pronger will never play again. Instead, their public stance has always been that he's working on coming back, and that he hopes to play again.
As we wrote last summer, and as the Daily News wrote too, that's the position they must take in order to keep Pronger's $4.5 million cap hit off the books. Or at least that was the impression we were under.
The Flyers circumvented the CBA back in 2009 when they signed Pronger. 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 per year 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.
Pronger cannot retire. That much we know is true. But is the team saying "he'll never play again" enough to consider him "retired" for purposes of the salary cap? Are the Flyers allowed to use LTIR on a player they've openly admitted will never play another game?
The LTIR section of the CBA doesn't detail anything that would keep the Flyers from using LTIR on Pronger. It only says that in order to qualify for LTIR, a player must be unable to play for 24 days or 10 games, rules under which Pronger certainly applies. There's no "limit" to LTIR according to the CBA. If a player can't play, he's eligible for LTIR.
Rules about retirement are extremely vague and not covered in the CBA, but using the old copy of the NHL's bylaws we have at our disposal, we can't find anything either. There's nothing about "implied retirement" or anything of the sort.
So maybe our previous assumption was wrong. Pronger can't officially sign his retirement papers or request official retirement from the league, but maybe the Flyers don't need to hide the fact that he'll never play again. We'll work to get some sort of official confirmation from the league on this.