Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chris Pronger: Wing-killer extraordinaire?

Chris Pronger is quite probably the most hated player in the NHL.  He's certainly at the top of the list for Detroit fans among active players, at least.  I'm not counting Claude Lemieux as active here,  as playing half a season in limited action hardly qualifies.  As Earl Sleek likes to remind us over at the Battle of California, Pronger has been very heavily involved in both playoff eliminations of the Red Wings since the lockout.  Given that Pronger will probably be the single biggest obstacle to the Red Wings this series, except for the man in the Anaheim net, I thought it would be interesting to see exactly what Pronger's total career performance has been against the Wings.  First, lets look at every single playoff series that Chris Pronger has been involved in against the Red Wings.


1995-96 2nd round (1) Detroit vs (5) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 7  

1996-97 1st round (3) Detroit vs (6) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 6 

1997-98 2nd round (3) Detroit vs (4) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 6 

2001-02 2nd round (1) Detroit vs (4) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 5 

2005-06 1st round (1) Detroit vs (8) Edmonton, Edmonton wins in 6

2006-07 3rd round (1) Detroit vs (2) Anaheim, Anaheim wins in 6 


So this obviously gives Chris Pronger a 2-4 record against the Big Red Machine, losing all 4 series as a part of the St. Louis Blues, and then winning his last two as part of the Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks.  Let's break this down and get his individual stats for each series.  


1995-96 2nd round (1) Detroit vs (5) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 7  

G1: 0G 1A -1 4 shot 0 PIM

G2: 0G 1A -3 2 shot 4 PIM

G3: 0G 1A even 0 shot 2 PIM

G4: 0G 0A even 1 shot 0 PIM

G5: 0G 0A +1 1 shot 0 PIM

G6: 0G 0A even 3 shot 0 PIM

G7: 0G 0A even 0 shot 0 PIM

TOTAL: 0G 3A -3 11 shots 6 PIM


1996-97 1st round (3) Detroit vs (6) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 6 

Unfortunately, it seems that box scores from the 1997 playoffs are not available.  However, because the Blues lost to the Wings in the first round, we can get Pronger's total numbers for the series from his playoff numbers.  

TOTAL: 1G 1A even 19 shots 22 PIM


1997-98 2nd round (3) Detroit vs (4) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 6 

G1: 0G 1A +1 1 shot 2 PIM

G2: 0G 1A -1 1 shot 4 PIM

G3: 0G 1A -1 2 shot 2 PIM

G4: 0G 0A +1 3 shots 2 PIM

G5: 0G 0A even 1 shot 6 PIM

G6: 0G 1A -2 4 shot 0 PIM

TOTAL: 0G 4A -2 12 shots 16 PIM


2001-02 2nd round (1) Detroit vs (4) St. Louis, Detroit wins in 5 

G1: 0G 0A even 3 shots 16 PIM (misconduct)

G2: 0G 1A +1 4 shot 0 PIM

G3: 0G 3A +2 1 shot 0 PIM

G4: 0G 1A even 1 shot 2 PIM (Torn ACL for trying to kill a one-legged Yzerman)


TOTAL: 0G 5A +3 9 shots 18 PIM (Plus a torn ACL)


2005-06 1st round (1) Detroit vs (8) Edmonton, Edmonton wins in 6 

G1: 1G 0A -2 2 shot 0 PIM

G2: 1G 1A +4 6 shot 0 PIM

G3: 0G 1A +1 1 shot 0 PIM

G4: 0G 0A even 4 shot 0 PIM

G5: 0G 3A even 0 shot 0 PIM

G6: 0G 0A +1 0 shot 4 PIM

TOTAL: 2G 5A +4 13 shots 4 PIM


2006-07 3rd round (1) Detroit vs (2) Anaheim, Anaheim wins in 6 

G1: 0G 0A even 5 shot 0 PIM

G2: 0G 1A +1 5 shots 4 PIM

G3: 0G 0A even 3 shot 4 PIM (Niedermayer blamed for another 15 PIM)

G4: DID NOT PLAY (Suspended)

G5: 0G 1A even 3 shot 4 PIM

G6: 0G 1A +1 2 shot 0 PIM

TOTAL: 0G 3A +2 18 shots 12 PIM (Plus a suspension and should've had another 15 PIM)



34GP 3G-21A-24P +4 82 SOG 78PIM (+15PIM, a suspension, and a torn ACL)


Just a quick look at the stats on a per-series basis makes it pretty clear that Pronger has had much more success both individually and from a team perspective beginning after the STL years, or maybe including that 01-02 STL/DET series.  This also coincides with his beginning to be nominated (and winning) the Norris and Hart trophies. So I'm going to try making two splits of stats here.  One for his totals pre-STL and one for post STL.  I will also try one for pre-2001-02 and one for 01-02 and later.  Presumably, since Pronger had risen to being an elite defenseman in the NHL in 2000, with two major trophy wins, his performance in 01-02 against the Wings should be comparable to what he has done in more recent years.  Unfortunately, I don't have access to TOI data for most of these series, so I'll be figuring things on a per-game basis


Stuck with STL: 23 GP / 1G 13A 14P (0.61 P/game) / -2 / 62 PIM (2.70 PIM/game)

Free from STL: 11 GP / 2G 8 A 10P (0.91 P/game) / +6 / 16 PIM (1.45 PIM/game)


Right there we can see a pretty amazing difference in terms of his per-game performance and his plus/minus.  His points per game went up by nearly 50%, while his official PIMs went down by nearly half.  If you factor in the 15 minutes that were incorrectly given to Niedermayer though, plus the resulting suspension, his PIMs stayed right on target.  Obviously, this split is somewhat stunted as most of his STL series against the Wings came before Pronger had really risen to that elite group of defensemen, and before STL's peak years, which ran from roughly 1999-2002.  Let's try specifically splitting this by timeline instead of team:


1995-98: 19 GP / 1G 8A 9P (0.47 P/game) / -5 / 44 PIM (2.32 PIM/game)

2001-07: 15 GP / 2G 13A 15P (1.0 P/game) / +9 / 34 PIM (2.27 PIM/game)


Whoa.  The difference between those splits is more than twice as many P/game, +14 on the +/-, and PIMs stay roughly the same, but if you apply the extra +15 PIM, you get 49 PIM (3.27 PIM/game).  That's a pretty big step up in Pronger's game, all around.  Unfortunately, I'm not the best at statistical analysis, and am also lacking in some of the info needed to properly figure out some more defensive-oriented stats, particularly for the earlier matchups.  Based on personal anecdotal experience however, I feel pretty confident in saying that just as much as Pronger's easy counting numbers have gotten better, so has his un-counted defensive contributions.  This is probably most evident in 2006-07 when he was not on the ice for a single PP or ES goal against (though he was out for a SH goal), even though the Wings did outscore the Ducks throughout that series.  


The one weakness that becomes visible in this overview is Pronger's tendency to play undisciplined hockey.  He tore his ACL in 2002 by trying to make a very late and very high hit on Steve Yzerman, who at the time was playing on a knee that would require reconstructive surgery in the offseason.  Yzerman ducked the hit, sending Pronger over him, causing the knee injury.  That 2002 Wings team was obscenely good, and odds are the Blues wouldn't have been able to stop them anyways, but Pronger's injury certainly didn't help.  In 2007, Pronger earned his first of two suspensions that playoff year for elbowing, when he and Scott Niedermayer combined on a hit on Tomas Holmstrom along the boards, where Pronger made sure he drove his elbow through Holmstrom's head.  Even looking through all the individual box scores for these series, I kept seeing a lot of "Pronger (slashing)" calls, along with several trips and roughing calls.  


The Red Wings main avenue for beating Pronger will simply have be to annoy him into taking stupid penalties.  Darren Helm might see a lot of Pronger in this series, as his speed will likely allow him to draw a penalty or two against Pronger, as well as his attitude.  It would also behoove Babcock to be vocal in the media about the refs keeping an eye on Pronger too.  Pronger will do stupid things away from the play, and if Babcock can get the refs to keep an extra eye on him, it might result in an extra PP or two over the course of the series, that the Wings would not have otherwise gotten.  In this series, one or two power play opportunities either way might be the difference between a Western Conference Final and a tee time.  


My intention in writing this post was to examine Chris Pronger's reputation as a "Wing-killer" as its been promoted over on the Battle of California.  Having followed every one of these series as a Wings fan, I've felt that Pronger was certainly a very good defenseman, but wasn't sure I believed that Pronger necessarily led the charge as much as he was a part of it on the back end.  Looking at these numbers though, it certainly looks like Pronger's performance against the Wings in the playoffs rose sensibly as his performance in general in the NHL also rose, taking him to one of the top 3 spots on the CLS all-decade team.  Asshole he may be, Pronger is certainly a mountain of an obstacle to a Wings team looking to repeat as Cup champions.  



Big thanks to the Hockey Summary Project.  Their box scores made this post possible, and I think I may do similar posts in the future.  Adam Deadmarsh comes to mind as another Wing-killer who I'd like to examine.  

The information used herein was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by The Hockey Summary Project. For more information about the Hockey Summary Project please visit: or


  1. This is probably most evident in 2006-07 when he was not on the ice for a single goal against, even though the Wings did outscore the Ducks throughout that series.

    Heh, you probably picked this stat up from me, but to clarify -- he was on the ice for one DET shorthanded goal.

    Great write-up, Joe. Splits look good, and it's always difficult finding same-data (TOI) when you're going back to the 90s.

    Damn, I'm nervous. I called my Red Wings buddy and I think we said concurrently "Fuck, we're going to lose."

  2. Aw shit, you're right.

    I couldn't find source material on it, but that stat was totally lifted from you having said it several times.

  3. Don't worry about it -- proud to dig it up. And I'll be mentioning it again shortly, that's fairly certain. :)

  4. ARTHUR:
    Good work, Joe.

    I think of him more as a post-lockout rabbit's foot than anything else when going into a series with the Wings. He certainly let Cheechoo get under his skin in Game 2 of the last series, but he is coming into this round at a plus-6, meaning that, but for one cross-checking call, he's clearing the front of the net cleanly.

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  6. ARTHUR:
    I forgot to mention I spotted an error on here. It was Rob Niedermayer that sandwiched Holmstrom and took the misconduct, not Scott.

    When's your next post, Joe? I don't want to SPAM you off the page or vice versa.

  7. Actually, Qwest sucks and my internet has been off for 27 of the last 28 hours. Post whatever and whenever you like.

    I actually thought it was Rob that got the call at first, but then overanalyzed it. I gotta actually check on things instead of trusting my foggy recollections of things.

  8. I think the series where his "Wings-killing" was most visible was that Edmonton series. I'll never forget that "holy shit" feeling watching him dominate in Game 1. It seems like that performance made a huge impact on the Oilers confidence that year.

    I STRONGLY feel that Pronger should have won the Conn Smythe that year, but oh well. I'll probably never get a vote on that award so all I can do is complain.

  9. I actually think he probably deserved it in a losing effort that year. If they win Game 7, he certainly has to get it, with Rolo being out. Even losing Game 7 though, and hating the guy as I do, I couldn't have argued with giving it to him after a losing effort.