Pronger's a sitting Duck

Ross McKeon
Yahoo! Sports

Chris Pronger's wallet might be a little lighter, but the NHL otherwise did the Anaheim Ducks a favor to suspend the team's captain eight games Saturday.

First, some background. Affable off the ice and downright ornery on it, Pronger looked to skate free of any supplemental discipline when the league said Friday it had closed its investigation of claims the 33-year-old stomped on prone Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler behind the play Wednesday night.

But when the league received video Friday of Pronger's clear indiscretion, it invited the veteran defenseman for an in-person hearing. That was the first clue a suspension was coming and that it would be more than four games. Pronger declined to go to New York, handled the process on the phone and learned Saturday of his fate.

In announcing the suspension, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said, "In attempting to free himself, Pronger carelessly and recklessly brought his foot down."

Kesler was not hurt on the play. It appeared Pronger's skate blade struck Kesler's protective shin guard.

First and foremost, this was a stupid split-second decision by Pronger. During a season in which Florida's Richard Zednik suffered a serious neck injury due to an accidental skate blade, and then-Islanders forward Chris Simon was suspended 30 games for stomping on the foot of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu, how could Pronger be so insensitive with his actions?

And how could Pronger get only eight games? This is his eighth suspension. It's not like he has a light rap sheet.

As it stands now, Pronger is eligible to return for Anaheim's season finale April 6, three or four days before the Ducks probably will open a first-round Stanley Cup best-of-seven series. Pronger, seventh in the league and tops on his team averaging 26:05 of ice time during 71 appearances, is forced to rest now and will be that much fresher for the start of the playoffs.

Anaheim has survived this plight before and on a much larger stage. Pronger was suspended for Game 4 of last year's Western Conference finals, which Detroit hoped to win to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Instead, the Ducks emerged victorious and didn't lose again in the series. Then Pronger was suspended for Game 4 of the finals against Ottawa, which was looking to win on home ice to tie the series. No chance. The Ducks escaped with a 3-2 win and skated with the Cup a game later in Anaheim.

Missing Pronger didn't bother the Ducks on Saturday night either. They rolled to their franchise-record ninth straight win at home, a 5-2 victory that moved Anaheim past Dallas and into fourth place in the Western Conference standings.

The Ducks are even deeper on the backline to make up for Pronger's absence now. On Saturday night against St. Louis, Marc-Andre Bergeron stepped into the lineup for the first time since being a healthy scratch for five games and skated 13 seconds short of a healthy 19 minutes. Bergeron was acquired from the Islanders at the deadline for depth. His most productive of five NHL seasons came as recently as 2005-06 when he scored 15 goals and 35 points for Edmonton.

Veteran Mathieu Schneider stepped into Pronger's spot on the No. 1 power-play unit. Funny thing, Schneider would be an automatic choice for every other team's top power-play group regardless of suspensions or injury. The Ducks are not asking the 38-year-old with 210 goals and 697 points in 1,189 career points to do something he can't handle. He scored Anaheim's first goal, added two assists and led the team in ice time with 23:09.

Who will pick up Pronger's monster minutes? Superstar Scott Niedermayer, well-rested in his own right, the underrated Francois Beauchemin and the much improved Kent Huskins will have no trouble adapting. And there's Joe DiPenta, Sean O'Donnell and Bergeron to help, too. It's the deepest, most versatile and talented blue line in the league, hands down.

How does it affect the Ducks in the standings? Not much. With or without Pronger, Anaheim didn't have a great chance to finish anywhere other than fourth or fifth in the Western Conference.

Trailing Pacific Division-leading San Jose by four points and with two fewer games remaining on the schedule, it's unlikely the Ducks would unseat the Sharks, even with two games remaining against their Northern California rivals.

Dallas probably won't catch San Jose either, so it's likely the Stars and Ducks will meet in the first round as the fourth and fifth seeds.

The only question is who will have home ice. What works in Anaheim's favor, too, is that the Ducks still will be in the Sharks' head even if San Jose has success against them in the final two regular-season meetings. Anaheim is 5-0-1 this season against the Sharks, who might beat the Ducks in the final two meetings but won't have defeated them with Pronger in the lineup.

The decision on Pronger was the fifth suspension levied by the league since Wednesday. In addition, Pittsburgh's Georges Laraque received three games for elbowing Buffalo's Nathan Paetsch, Chicago's James Wisniewski got one game for cross-checking Detroit's Mikael Samuelsson, Dallas' Steve Ott received three games for a hit to the head on Colorado's Jordan Leopold and Buffalo's Andrew Peters got a game for an altercation with Colton Orr of the Rangers.

To the credit of Anaheim, general manager Brian Burke, who had Campbell's job when he worked for the league previously, did not condone Pronger's actions. He said his team would not use this as any excuse or any distraction toward its ultimate goal.

There's no confirmation that Burke was seen hopping up and down, shaking his arms in the air, after hanging up the phone on the conference call. He might as well have because he and the Ducks got away with one.

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