In the 50-plus year history of the St. Louis Blues, seven numbers have been retired: 2, for legendary defenseman Al MacInnis. 3 for Bob Gassoff, gone too soon due to a motorcycle accident. 5 and 8 for Bob and Barclay, the Plager brothers who ruled the ice. 11, 16, and 24 for three of the Blues’ greatest: Brian Sutter, Bret Hull, and Bernie Federko.
In addition, the Blues have honored (but not retired) a few others. The legendary broadcaster Dan Kelly has a shamrock hung in his honor. Doug Wickenheiser’s number 14 hangs in honor of his great career and his noble battle against cancer. And there is a corner of the arena devoted to the number 7, in honor of Red Berenson, Garry Unger, Joe Mullen, and Keith Tkachuk, all of whom wore it in their time with the Blues.
All of these men deserve their recognition for one reason or another, but there is one name that is glaring absent from the list, a name that needs to be added in the immediate future: the Blues must retire the number 44 for the legendary Chris Pronger.
Pronger Led the Golden Age
As much as the Blues are synonymous with Hull’s era, the turn of the millennium was truly the golden age for the franchise, and it was the unparalleled pairing of Pronger and MacInnis that led the charge. The two won back-to-back Norris Trophies in 1998-99 (MacInnis) and 1999-2000 (Pronger), the latter being the season in which the franchise won its only Presidents’ Trophy.
Pronger’s season was truly remarkable: while averaging 30:14 time on ice per game, he collected 62 points (14 G, 42 A) in 79 games, and led the league in plus/minus at an inconceivable plus-52. The season was good for a point share of 14.8 (9.6 on defense alone, both were league-highs). The season was good enough to bring home both the Norris and the Hart Trophies for the league’s most valuable player. Only one other player has ever won both in a season, and his name was Bobby Orr.
Pronger’s Legendary Career
As great as his one season was, it was just one in the incredible career that Pronger had. In nine seasons with the Blues, he collected 356 points in 598 games. He was a plus-140 and had a point share of 76.9, for an average of 8.5 per season. In addition, he averaged over 29 minutes per night across all nine seasons.
The only thing Pronger couldn’t accomplish in St. Louis was win hockey’s greatest prize: the Stanley Cup. That he did in 2007, with the Anaheim Ducks, towards the end of his career. The Ducks were one of three teams, along with the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers, with whom Pronger reached the Final, but he only captured one Cup.
All told, Pronger played 1,167 games in an illustrious career. He had 698 points, one legendary season, and one Stanley Cup. In addition, he was a legendary agitator, and one of the most physical, aggressive, and dominating players in the game. His career earned him the honor of being selected as one of the game’s 100 greatest players during the NHL Centennial.
Pronger was a widely-hated player by opponents, but he was an unrivaled difference-maker for a number of teams, which is proven by the fact that all three of his Final appearances occurred in his first or second season with a team. Though he played in five different organizations (he was drafted second overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1993), the bulk of his career and his greatest single season was with the Blues.
A Fitting Anniversary Gift
It is well past time the Blues recognize Pronger’s contribution by hanging his number 44 in the rafters. He was the team’s second-longest serving captain (behind Sutter), and had perhaps the single greatest season in the franchise’s history.
Yes, Pronger was a controversial player, especially later in his career, and yes his departure from St. Louis was messy, as the owners were looking to sell the team. But none of that should overshadow one of the truly great careers in the history of not only the Blues, but the entire NHL.
The 2019-20 season will be the 20th anniversary of Pronger’s incredible Hart and Norris Trophy winning season. It is time for the Blues to honor that great memory, and so many more that he made with the Blues, by retiring the number 44 and letting it join the other greats in franchise history.