Pronger wants to add a Cup to his resume

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:55 AM ET

Pick a superlative.

Team brass calls his signing a bold statement that the Edmonton Oilers are serious about returning to Stanley Cup contention after too many seasons as also-rans.

The Hockey News rates him one of the 50 best players on the planet. Fans describe the James Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy recipient as a franchise player, a cornerstone, the elite go-to guy who has been lacking since Doug Weight packed his bags.

Chris Pronger is all of the above, so it's little wonder that when he waltzed into Edmonton in August, he was granted a hero's welcome when paraded before the local faithful with Michael Peca.

For all the accolades Pronger has earned since breaking into the NHL with Hartford as a raw-boned beanpole during the 1993-94 season, however, there's something missing on his resume.

With more NHL games behind him than in front of him - not to make the soon-to-be 31-year-old sound like a fossil - Pronger hasn't had his name engraved on a Stanley Cup.

That's something Pronger is driven to change during the duration of the five-year contract he signed with the Oilers after being plucked from the Show Me State by GM Kevin Lowe.

The expectations of fans hungry for a return to the glory days are shared by the new guy atop the marquee at Rexall Place. Winners expect to win.

He is one of those, to be sure.

"I don't think making the playoffs is going to be good enough for us," Pronger says matter-of-factly. "We need to not only get in, but contend and be a force.

"With what Calgary was able to do a couple years ago, you realize getting that chemistry and that feeling you can win tight games, you start gaining confidence and really understanding what it takes to be successful."

Outside of, maybe, Scott Niedermayer and Niklas Lidstrom, is there a better defenceman in the NHL? Not likely.

"He eats up minutes and he never gets rattled by pressure," said vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast.

"He thinks the game so well. He uses his size. He's a presence.

"He's one of the best defencemen, not just in the NHL, but in the world. He's been in every key situation you can name - the World Cup, Olympics. He makes everybody around him better."

No poop. The guy's good.

"You can easily argue he's been the best defenceman in the game over the last four or five years," assistant GM Scott Howson said.

"To get a guy like that who can play 25-30 minutes a game, play so well defensively, be an intimidating presence and help on the power play, it's just something we haven't had in quite a while."

Despite nine consecutive appearances in the post-season with St. Louis, the bauble Pronger covets most has eluded him.

The closest he came was 2000-01, when the Blues were pegged Stanley Cup favourite by many, but bowed to Colorado in five games in the Western Conference final.

It took Ray Bourque an entire career to get his name on the Stanley Cup - with the Colorado team that beat the Blues in the conference final and bettered New Jersey in seven games.

"To be able to get your name on that cup, it's everybody's dream growing up," Pronger said. "It's a difficult trophy to win.

"Trying to get there is a battle in itself, then being able to win it ... there's 30 teams in the league that feel like they have a chance, especially with the new CBA. It's probably going to be even more of a grind than in previous years, but with the people we have in this locker-room, I think it's here. It's up to us to get that chemistry."

Pronger isn't nearly as close to the end of his career as Bourque was when Boston shipped the future hall-of-famer to the Mile High City for one more kick at the can. And neither is Pronger coming to a team that's considered a Stanley Cup favourite.

"It's going to be a progression for this team," Pronger said.

"Learning how to win the big games, get the game to the next level and hit that extra gear to get over the top. When you've been put down and kept down as long as this team's been, you're re-training your mind, really. It's tough to do. It's tough to get bad habits out of your game. It takes a little bit of time, but once it happens, everything just seems like it's clicking."

Weary of the parade of players leaving for more money under the economics of the old CBA, fans here have emerged from the NHL lockout wearing their expectations on their sleeves.

"To have a player like that makes a huge statement for the organization and for our fans," Howson said.

"It's everybody. The fans, the coaches, the management, the players," said Prendergast. "You have an opportunity to compete now. Not just try to get into the playoffs. We have the opportunity to be better than that."

That's a message endorsed by No. 44.

"It's great to have expectations and great to have potential," Pronger said. "If you never achieve it, it's disheartening."

The Pronger file

Name: Chris Pronger

Born: Oct. 10, 1974

Hometown: Dryden, Ontario

Height: Six-foot-six

Weight: 220 pounds

Position: Defence

NHL Stats: 94-306-400 with 1,098 PIM in 722 games

Hockey resume: Drafted by the Hartford Whalers from the OHL's Peterborough Petes second overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft ... traded to St. Louis for Brendan Shanahan July 27, 1995 ... traded to Edmonton for Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch Aug. 3, 2005, and signed a five-year contract worth $31.25 million ... is plus-125 in 722 regular-season games, including plus-52 with St. Louis in 1999-2000 ... made the playoffs in nine straight seasons with St. Louis from 1995-96 to 2003-04 ... scored 10-41-51 in 85 career playoff games.

Trophy cabinet: CHL best defenceman, plus-minus award, first all-star and Max Kaminsky Award (Most Outstanding Defenceman) with Peterborough in 1992-93 ... NHL all-rookie team in 1993-94 ... NHL second all-star team and Bud Light plus-minus award 1997-98 ... Hart Trophy, James Norris Trophy, first-team all-star and plus-minus award in 1999-2000 ... Olympic gold medallist with Canada in 2002 ... Second all-star team in 2003-04.

Greatest Hockey Influence: Parents, brother Sean

Favourite NHL City: Los Angeles

Favourite Food: Alberta beef

Favourite Team Growing Up: New York Islanders

First Minor Hockey Team: Dryden Teepees

Favourite Musical Artist: Tim McGraw

First Car: 1983 Ford Ranger


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