Pronger's 'year from hell' started and ended with injuries

Posted: May 10, 2011

THERE WAS A LONG pause on the other end of the phone.

"The year from hell is over," Chris Pronger said.

That's how Pronger described his injury-riddled season, which officially came to a close on Friday night in Boston - ending the season the same exact way it started in October, with Pronger watching from afar because of injury.

After slogging through exactly 118 games last season - including all 82 games with the Flyers, six with the gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic team in Vancouver, seven preseason games and 23 Stanley Cup playoff games - Pronger skated in just 50 games in the regular season this year, his lowest total since 2002-03.

His self-described "year from hell" started last July 27, when a seemingly benign knee surgery kept him off the ice for nearly all of training camp and the first two games of the regular season.

It may end with another surgery in the not-so-distant future, to correct a possible herniated disc in his lower back, which Pronger said he first felt in Game 7 of the first round against Buffalo. Pronger was examined by a doctor yesterday and hopes to know more in the coming days.

In between, he had surgery in December to insert a screw in his foot to promote the healing of a fracture in his metatarsal and also a March 15 hand surgery to do the same thing in his right hand.

"I started the season with a surgery and I'm going to end it, who knows, whether I get another one or not," Pronger said on a conference call with reporters. "From an injury standpoint, it's been the toughest year. You start to get back and feeling good and another one crops up."

Pronger said he is still not 100 percent healed from his hand injury that kept him out of the first five games of the first round.

"My hand is still at a stage where I need to continue to work at it to get it stronger," Pronger said. "It was to the point where I could play, but I still don't have a lot of grip strength, still don't have a full range of motion. It's still where it was."

How much the Flyers missed Pronger this season is up for debate. They finished with a winning record when Pronger was out of the lineup (18-15-7) but many of those wins came during a time of the season when it is easier to win. The Flyers were just 2-6 without him in the playoffs. Their record with him, including the playoffs, was an impressive 33-15-5.

"I felt like we really missed Chris in the Boston series," coach Peter Laviolette said. "You saw the damage [6-9 Zdeno] Chara was doing at the other end of the ice and the difficulties that we had. Let's be honest, we didn't generate what we needed to generate in the offensive zone and [Pronger] plays half the game. You're taking an elite defenseman who plays half the game out of your lineup."

At 36, Pronger is not getting any younger. It's fair to start to wonder whether Pronger's body, after 17 seasons, can continue to handle the wear and tear of an NHL season.

For his part, Pronger said he's not worried about not being able to finish out the 6 years and $29.85 million remaining on his contract extension, which was inked in 2009. To his credit, few Flyers currently keep themselves in the top physical condition that Pronger maintains.

But injuries like a herniated disc, which kept Michael Leighton sidelined from October to December, are different than fractured bones in hands and feet.

"The success rate for a surgery like that is usually about 95 percent," said Dr. Todd Wetzel, the vice chair of orthopedic surgery and spine expert at Temple University Hospital. "But that also means that five out of every 100 people will still experience chronic symptoms, like weakness, pain or numbness. For most people, that would be tolerable. But for a high performance athlete, that may be a different story."

"I've got to see what the doctors say, what their recommendations are, then weigh the pros and cons to whatever it is that we decide to do," Pronger said. "Hopefully, a good summer of training and rehab on the various issues that I've had will rectify all those and I can come into camp next year in a lot better shape, a lot healthier, and able to play in all 82 games next year."

Slap shots

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren will address the media today to discuss injuries and his plans for next season . . . James van Riemsdyk, who joined Team USA on Sunday at the World Championships in Kosice, Slovakia, picked up a goal in the final 2 minutes and nearly tied the game for the United States in an eventual 5-3 loss to Switzerland yesterday. Team USA will play the Czech Republic tomorrow in Bratislava, Slovakia, in the quarterfinals . . . Defenseman Sean O'Donnell, 39, said he wants to continue playing but will talk it over with his wife and agent before making a decision. O'Donnell is an unrestricted free agent come July 1.

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