Friday, August 11, 2006
Don’t vilify Pronger
by Guest Columnist
How soon they forget.
A week after he led the Oilers to within a game of winning their first Stanley Cup in 16 seasons, Chris Pronger is Public Enemy No. 1 in Edmonton. Make that 1A. His wife, Lauren, is 1B.
All because the Prongers had the audacity to request a trade.
It happens all the time, players requesting to be moved, but for some reason, Edmonton fans took this one as a personal affront. Heaven forbid somebody should not want to live in Edmonton.
The organization was aware of Pronger’s desire to be moved early in the year, yet it rode him all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. That’s because even though he wished he were elsewhere, Pronger was professional when it came to doing his job. He played part of the year on a broken foot and through a portion of the playoffs with a partially separated shoulder.
By the end of the year, there was little doubt in anybody’s mind that he was once again the most complete defenseman in the game. Nobody possesses the ability to control a game, plays the quality minutes he does or has the ability to shut down opposing star players, as does Pronger. His 21 points in 24 games was the most by a defenseman in the playoffs since Brian Leetch scored 34 for the Rangers in 1993-94.
It was, from this little corner of the world, an injustice that he was not among the Norris Trophy finalists or awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP in the playoffs.
But a week after Edmontonians anointed Pronger their hero, they made him out to be a villain. And they dragged both Chris’s and Lauren’s names through the mud as vicious rumors of infidelity, circulated on the Internet and by word of mouth, were cited as the reason why they wanted to skip town.
There are some issues at hand here. If a wife is unhappy with where she is living, regardless of what her husband does for a living, does she not have the option of speaking up? Or is it a case of, if you are married to a pro hockey player in Edmonton, you forfeit all your rights?
“Shut up, Bea. Look after your husband and your kids and quit your complaining!”
I don’t know about you, but if I tried telling my wife where we were going to live without any input from her, I would spend the rest of my life walking with a limp.
During the playoffs, Edmonton fans showed themselves to be the loudest and most enthusiastic in the NHL. Was that real or just an act to get attention? When I stood inside Rexall Place and felt the goose bumps on my arms and back of my neck as fans belted out the American and Canadian anthems, I couldn’t think of anyplace else I’d rather be at that moment.
I have a friend who was raised in Burlington, Ont., where winters are relatively shorter and warmer than they are in Edmonton, who swears God created Alberta first and then built the rest of the world around it.
“Who wouldn’t love living in Alberta?” Louise Diduch wrote to me in an e-mail.
Well, uh, me for one. Quite honestly, I have never enjoyed myself at games during a Stanley Cup final as much as I did this year during the three games played in Edmonton. That said, I find Edmonton to be a great place to visit, but I’m way too much of a wuss to handle the cold. I went to Edmonton for the outdoor game a few years back and I swear I nearly lost my will to live. But hey, that’s just me.
On the other hand, there are roughly 33 million people in Canada and 32 million choose not to live in Edmonton. Are they all bad people? Oh, and here’s another thought: By reacting this way to Pronger’s trade request, Oilers fans aren’t exactly doing the organization a world of good in terms of trying to attract new players.
There is such a thing as the business of hockey. Decisions are made that don’t please everybody, but life goes on. A player may decide to sign with a team as a free agent, in part because he likes the location of the franchise, but if that teams feels it can improve itself by trading him, he’s gone.
Conversely, for years during the Glen Sather regime in Edmonton, grinder Kelly Buchberger was held up as an example of a player who took less money to stay with the team he loved. But at the end of it all, he was left unprotected and chosen by Atlanta in the 1999 NHL expansion draft. That’s life in the big leagues.
Fans need to remember that.