TORONTO (AP) -Upon further review, Chris Pronger's stomp on the leg of Vancouver center Ryan Kesler could not go unpunished.
The NHL kicked back at Anaheim's All-Star defenseman on Saturday, suspending him for eight games - a ban that won't expire until the final day of the regular season.
Pronger was to begin serving his eighth career suspension on Saturday night when the defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks hosted the St. Louis Blues.
``First, I apologize to Ryan Kesler. Second, to the Vancouver Canucks organization, third, to the Anaheim Ducks organization, the league and the fans,'' Pronger said after receiving his longest suspension. ``They obviously deserve an apology as well.
``There is not a place for these types of instances in our game.''
It is a critical blow to Anaheim, which began the day in third place in the Pacific Division, one point behind Dallas and four short of San Jose. Pronger is eligible to return April 6 for the regular-season finale against Phoenix.
During Anaheim's 4-1 victory over the Canucks on Wednesday, Pronger and Kesler became tangled behind the Vancouver net. As Pronger turned to head back up ice, he stepped on Kesler's leg as the Canucks forward lay on the ice.
No penalty was called on the play, and the NHL said a proper video angle wasn't available until Thursday night.
The punishment was handed down hours after Pronger had a phone hearing with NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
``In attempting to free himself, Pronger carelessly and recklessly brought his foot down,'' Campbell said in a statement.
Kesler, who wasn't injured, said he was fine with the judgment.
``I'm not surprised he didn't get more considering how many games they have left,'' he told Rogers Sportsnet. ``If that's what the league thinks he deserves, that's good enough for me.''
Pronger said he wasn't surprised by the decision.
``Looking at other precedents and other situations that have happened, certainly as a league we don't condone these types of incidents and obviously want to put these behind us and talk about the important parts of the game,'' Pronger said. ``I didn't really plead my case all that much.
``There probably wasn't too much to say, merely just to replay the incident to them and understand the league doesn't condone instances like this. I expressed my sincere apologies and they did what they needed to do and I'd have to live with it.''
Earlier this season, the NHL suspended Chris Simon - then of the New York Islanders - 30 games for stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu. That marked the longest ban in terms of games in league history.
Pronger got off with a much lighter sentence, but still one that could impact the Western Conference playoff race.
``That's what the league has decided,'' Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. ``We have to live with the consequences and deal with that. Now it's an opportunity. That's why you acquire players at the trade deadline and have depth in your lineup.
``We have the choice between (Marc-Andre) Bergeron and (Joe) DiPenta to go in. That's just the way it is, and we move forward.''
Bergeron was with the Islanders earlier this season when Simon stepped on Ruutu. He was acquired in the hours just before last month's trade deadline.
Pronger, who previous longest ban was four games, will forfeit $609,756 in salary to the players' emergency assistance fund. His most recent suspension came in last year's Stanley Cup finals when he sat out one game for elbowing Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in the head during Game 3 of the series.
Skates have proven to be very dangerous recently. Florida forward Richard Zednik was hospitalized and had surgery that forced him to miss the remainder of the season after the skate blade of teammate Olli Jokinen cut the carotid artery in his neck in a freak accident during a game last month.
Also, veteran linesman Pat Dapuzzo needed dozens of stitches on his face after he was hit by a skate blade a day before Zednik's injury while working a game in Philadelphia.
On Friday, Simon questioned the initial decision to not suspend Pronger.
``I think what's happened here is there's a lot of sensitivity to anything related to skates right now,'' said Ducks general manager Brian Burke, a former NHL disciplinarian. ``I would have to hope and believe that the NHL disregards any kind of outcry when they evaluate these kinds of things.
``I have a lot more confidence in Colin Campbell that he's never going to respond to media pressure. I know I never did when I did that job.''
Pronger got his first suspension in the NHL from Burke, on Oct. 29, 1995 - a four-game ban for slashing Washington's Pat Peake.
His suspensions, all with the Ducks and St. Louis Blues, have amounted to 20 regular-season and two postseason games.
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