Stop whining about Chris Pronger’s conflict of interest: The F.A.Q.

The Flyers said they're shutting down Chris Pronger for the rest of the regular season and playoffs, and the defenseman's career is in jeopardy

The scariest thing about NHL's concussion crisis

The Flyers said they're shutting down Chris Pronger for the rest of the regular season and playoffs, and the defenseman's career is in jeopardy

(As you heard, Chris Pronger is in the running to join the NHL Department of Player Safety. Some people had a slight problem with it. We’re here to help.) 

Q. Chris Pronger? Player Safety? I know these words but know not how they fit together logically.

Pronger’s no saint, this is true. He had 1,916 penalty minutes in the regular season over 18 seasons and was suspended a total of 20 regular-season games and two playoff games.

But remember “Dexter”?

Pretty great show, before he moved away and became a lumberjack. The premise was simple: It took a bloodthirsty monster to bring other bloodthirsty monsters to justice.

Hence, “Chris Pronger” and “Player Safety” can in fact co-exist.

Please note that one of the celebrated virtues of Brendan Shanahan was that he was a player with rough edges; someone who delivered the kinds of hits the League now wanted out of the game. Many people felt he carried respect in communicating with today’s players because he played that style.

Same goes for Pronger.

Q. Irony aside, we all know what the real issue with Chris Pronger: HE’S STILL WORKING FOR THE FLYERS!

He is? His name doesn’t appear on their staff listing, and at best you could say he’s been a consultant to the team’s scouting staff over the last year. The Courier Post said that as an “active player in name only,” he couldn’t work for the team.

Q. OK, let me rephrase: HE’S STILL GETTING A PAYCHECK FROM THE FLYERS!

This is true. Pronger last played for the Flyers in Nov. 2011, when a stick to his eye concussed him and derailed his career after signing a 7-year, $34.55-million contract with the Flyers in 2009. He’ll never play in the NHL again, but lingers on the Flyers’ long-term injured reserve list; hence, he’ll make $4 million this season and then $575,000 in each of the next two seasons on a contract that in no way was an attempt to circumvent the cap. (*coughs*)

Here, we’ll ask a question of our own: Why doesn’t he just retire?

It’s because Pronger and the Flyers have a mutually beneficial situation in which Pronger gets the rest of his contract fulfilled while the Flyers aren’t suddenly saddled with a $4.9-millon-plus cap hit if he retired.

Q. How is it possible that he can be an “active player” for the Flyers and take another job in the NHL, without retiring?

Ask Marc Savard, who received permission from the NHL to be a junior hockey scout while remaining on Long-Term Injured Reserve with the Boston Bruins.

Q. But this isn't legal, right?

According to Elliotte Friedman, it may not be: 


Specifically:

A Club (directly or indirectly through a "Club Actor," i.e., any owner, shareholder, Club Affiliated Entity, the NHL or third party acting at the behest of a Club) and a Player (directly or indirectly through a "Player Actor," i.e., his Certified Agent or any other individual, any entity, or the NHLPA, acting on behalf of the Player) may not, at any time, enter into undisclosed agreements of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind involving consideration of any kind to be paid, furnished or made available or guaranteed to the Player, or Player Actor, by the Club or Club Actor either prior to, during, or after the term of the Player's SPC. 

Which is why the NHLPA is so involved at the moment. 

Q. Back to him getting paid by the Flyers: So this is a total conflict of interest, right?

Well, Sean Gentille believes so. As does Barry Petchesky. And so does the NHL.

As Nick Cotsonika reported, the NHL will have Pronger recuse himself from rulings that involve the Flyers, much like they allegedly had Colin Campbell recuse himself from rulings that involved the Boston Bruins, where his son Gregory “WARRIOR” Campbell plays.

So even the League is aware of the optics.

Q. Optics are one thing; the fact is that he’d still be ruling on cases that affect the Flyers’ rivals and, thus, making decisions that could affect games involving the Flyers, right?

Well, not really.

Q. Come again?

So Gentille writes:

What it doesn't account for is the prospect of Pronger offering input on a situation involving a Flyers rival the morning his direct deposit comes through. That would look very, very bad

And Petchesky writes:

But. Dude's a Flyer. Gets a paycheck signed by Ed Snider and everything. Yes, he'd recuse himself from cases directly involving the Flyers. And yes, he's surely grown-up enough not to bring any bias to the job. It doesn't matter. The NHL cannot possibly have a rostered Flyer helping out on suspension lengths for, say, some superstar on a Metropolitan division rival.

Emphasis mine.

Here’s how the Department of Player Safety works: As a committee. Damian Echevarrieta runs the video room, Patrick Burke advises on plays. Colin Campbell, Mike Murphy and Kris King offer their input. So does Bill Daly, on the big stuff. The NHL plans on adding another former player along with Pronger, and hopefully it’s a European alumnus.

They all study the video, offer their input. And then it’s Stephane Qunital who makes the call on the suspension and its length. That’s how the department was set up under Brendan Shanahan, and how it continues under Quintal. As Shanahan said:

“There’s always going to be a name or a person who’s going to take the brunt of the responsibility, and there are times when he’s going to have to break a tie or go with his gut and go against the group,” Shanahan said. “Ultimately, his signature is going to be at the bottom of these decisions.

His signature. Not Pronger’s. Unless of course Quintal is King Theoden and Pronger is Wormtongue, whispering in his ear and controlling his mind; in which case, this was indeed a Tolkien hire.

Q. C’mon, isn’t that semantics? He’s still getting Flyers checks and helping to hand out suspensions! Conflict of interest!

Sure, but it’s not like he’s in a position of power.

Gentille’s right when he writes regarding conflict of interest:

This is the same league, remember, that had a discipline czar who angrily emailed the head of officiating about calls against his son in 2007.

Campbell was the League’s player safety czar, and as his emails revealed, used that position to discuss the Bruins with on-ice officials even after he allegedly recused himself from doing so.

I’d argue that Pronger’s conflict pales in comparison to that of Colin Campbell. Pronger is one voice of many. Campbell had the gavel.

Q. Dude, what part of “HE’S ON THE FLYERS’ PAYROLL” don’t you get? Or as Deadspin put it, “There's no ‘perception.’ He's a Flyer! He's getting $4 million from them this year! He's invited to the Flyers' company picnic. Am I taking crazy pills?”

I don’t get the part where that matters.

Yes, he’s getting paid by the Flyers, for a contract he signed and would be fulfilling (at least through this season) were it not for his injury. At this point, that contract is the equivalent of workman’s comp: He doesn’t have to lift a finger for the organization to receive that salary; nor will he lose that money if he doesn’t play ball for the Flyers in the Department of Player Safety.

Conflict of interest is essentially a situation where someone with multiple interests might be corruptible. It’s a situation where bias exists not only because of personal preference, but because of potential financial gain.

Shanahan had it, for example, when he and the Maple Leafs were discussing his current job. That he didn’t recuse himself was a mistake.

But what does Pronger gain, financially, from being a Flyers sleeper agent in the Dept. of Player Safety?

Again: The money he’s receiving is money he’s already guaranteed through his contract, so long as he isn’t retired. It’s all technicality born from the Flyers’ cap circumvention and the CBA’s rules. He’s not angling for another contract. Nothing he does changes his level of compensation. 

Hell, who really has the leverage here: The Flyers, who owe Pronger roughly $5.2 million over the next three years; or Pronger, who could leave that money on the table, retire, and immediately put the Flyers about $5 million over the cap?

It was nice seeing you again, R.J. Umberger; sorry you had to go so soon …”

Q. But the optics!

I don’t think that was a question.

Q. But the optics!?

Yes, I know, the optics have people riled up. Perception, optics, inference! As Adam Proteau writes: 

So I don’t think it’s at all out of the question for Pronger to be an asset to that department, the much bigger problem is that, while he’s effectively retired thanks to concussion issues, Pronger remains under contract to the Philadelphia Flyers for the next three seasons. Of course, having someone in the employ of a team he’s being asked to possibly punish through a suspension is a massive red flag for the credibility of all involved, including the league itself.

The money thing seems to cement the bond between the Flyers and Pronger, but let's face it: That bond is there, contract or not.

But let’s say the money situation is somehow resolved and he’s no longer getting checks from the Flyers; is he free and clear from accusations of bias?

Of course not.

Here’s the roster from Pronger’s last game as a Flyer. No less than seven of those players are still on the team. He "worked" as a scout for the team last year.

Money owed or not, the guy bleeds orange.

Just like Patrick Burke’s father is a player personnel chief for the Calgary Flames. Just like Quintal was a teammate with dozens of current players and executives in this league. 

It’s the nature of the NHL that everyone has built relationships that could lead to “bad optics” in a role like the Department of Player Safety. Sure, you can argue that being on the Flyers’ payroll makes Prongers’ “optics” exponentially more troubling, but at the end of the day we’re still talking about which players bring inherent bias to what should be an impartial role.

You want an NHL Department of Player Safety without any conflicts of interest or assumptions of bias? Hire former NBA stars to run it.

C’mon, who wouldn’t want to see Charles Barkley’s suspension videos?

Q. OK, so let me proffer this: What if I don’t want Chris Pronger in Player Safety because I think he’s an insufferable [expletive]?

Now you’re making sense.

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