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Campbell’s Cuts: An open letter to Chris Pronger

Chris Pronger has 12 goals and 43 points in 71 games this season. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Chris Pronger has 12 goals and 43 points in 71 games this season. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Dear Chris,

I’ve known you for a long time. I remember the first time I saw you play. It was a Jr. B All-Star Game in Kitchener in 1991. After that, I made a point of watching you play several more times that season and I always wondered how the big, lanky defenseman for Stratford could stand so much abuse without snapping.

Seventeen years have passed since then and I’ve noticed a lot of changes. As you’ve gotten more personal accolades, more money and more attention, you also seem to have built up more anger.

The Chris Pronger I watched for Stratford was a brash teenager, but one who played on the right side of the rulebook, or at least it seemed that way.

The Chris Pronger I watched as a junior in Peterborough was dominant, but a little bit sneaky-dirty, one with a propensity for jamming a stick in the back of someone’s legs when the referee wasn’t looking.

But the Chris Pronger I see now is one who skates around with a scowl most of the time. He has earned a reputation as one of the dirtiest, if not the dirtiest player in the NHL, and judging by your latest suspension, it’s getting increasingly difficult to argue with that take on you.

It seems to me, Chris, somehow a sense of entitlement has crept into your psyche. You wanted to leave Edmonton, so you put the team into a position where it had no choice but to trade you.

When your buddy Scott Niedermayer decided to take a four-month vacation earlier this season, despite the fact he was breaking a valid contract and doing nothing anymore differently than guys such as Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Yashin had done in the past, you defended him by saying on a THN.com blog that, “Teams own your rights. They don’t own your soul.”

And now, it seems to me at least, that nobody who crosses you can do so without incurring your wrath.

Chris, I know you are a target for abuse. You’re a big, physical, talented player. I get it. But geez, you think you’re the only one?

Ask Peter Stastny what he had to go through when he first started playing in the NHL as other players looked at him as a Commie bastard who was here to steal their jobs. Some nights, he had to drive home with one hand because the other arm was bruised from the shoulder down.

But I think what concerns me most is the pattern that has been established here. And it’s troubling.

When Chris Simon earned his eighth career suspension for stomping on Jarkko Ruutu’s leg in December, this corner called on the NHL or the New York Islanders, or both, to ban him for life.

Chris, you’re beginning to make it very difficult for people to distinguish between the two of you and that’s really, really sad.

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As far as I’m concerned, your stomp on Ryan Kesler last week was every bit as heinous as Simon’s on Ruutu, possibly even worse. The fact it could have resulted in very significant, even tragic, consequences makes it a very serious matter indeed.

But while you’ve committed your share of violent acts in the past, including a recent cluster that seems troubling, you have never two-handed someone in the face, crosschecked an opponent in the throat or allegedly uttered a racial slur at an opponent the way Simon has.

But doesn’t it bother you that people are lumping you in with that guy? Doesn’t it bother you that you’re on the precipice of being remembered as much or more for your violent acts than for your Norris and Hart Trophies?

Doesn’t it concern you that it’s getting more and more difficult for people to defend your actions?

I’m only saying this, Chris, because it looks sometimes as though you’re intent on throwing all the good things you’ve done away, the same way you did early in your career with your off-ice lifestyle.

Mike Keenan got a hold of you and straightened you out. Now it’s time somebody else got it through to you that you can’t continue to act this way on the ice.

Because I fear if this keeps up, you might end up pulling a Marty McSorley. Is that the way you want to be remembered?

You have the chance to go down in history as one of the greatest defensemen to ever play this game. There’s no reason why more Stanley Cups and Norris Trophies can’t be in your future.

I think you owe it to yourself and to the game to get your on-ice anger in check. I know it’s a difficult line to tread because part of what makes you so effective and difficult to play against is that very attribute.

But surely you can find a way to balance the two. You’re a smart guy and now you have about three weeks to figure it out.

So please, Chris, no more proclamations when you come back that you’re not going to change your approach to the game. The fact is you desperately need to change your approach to the game.

You owe it to your team. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your legacy.

Just thought you might like to know.

Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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