Suddenly, the St. Louis Blues have a lot of important ice time to fill.
Chris Pronger, the NHL MVP and team captain, usually plays about half the game. He will undergo arthroscopic surgery for torn cartilage in his left knee Tuesday and miss 4-to-6 weeks.
"Everybody gets a little more time," general manager Larry Pleau said. "The ones that are able to jump up, it's a chance for them."
Pronger is averaging 28 minutes after leading the NHL with 30 minutes a game last season. He has six goals and a team-leading 35 assists and is plus-18 for the Blues, who are second overall in the standings with 67 points.
"I may have to take a vacation to get away and not have to watch much hockey for a while," Pronger said. "Maybe come back when I'm ready to skate and get back in the flow. It's never any fun having to watch games from up top."
Pronger, who also won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman last season, was injured when he made a check against Nashville at home Jan. 4 and teammate Tyson Nash accidentally banged into him.
He played nine games before he and the team decided on surgery, knocking him out of the Feb. 4 All-Star game. On Sunday, he played more than 30 minutes in a 3-1 loss at Nashville.
"Management wanted me to get it done now," Pronger said. "The type of pain I've been feeling has gradually gotten worse, and I think the longer I wait, the more it would affect my knee and possibly my play.
"Now is probably the best time to get it taken care of, so I'll have a month and a half before the playoffs."
Pleau said it was the smart thing to do.
"He can play with it, but why take a chance of damaging the knee?" Pleau said. "We're not two weeks from the playoff starting, so this is the team to get it repaired so he can get it healthy."
An MRI Friday showed torn cartilage. Pronger and the team decided he could play two more games before having the operation. He said the injury hindered him more off the ice than on getting in and out of his car, for instance.
"It's funny, some of the things you'd think would bother it don't," Pronger said. "Mainly, when I'm skating it doesn't really bother it.
That included Sunday, his last game.
"Once the game starts, you don't really pay attention," Pronger said. "In warmups it's a little creaky, but once you get playing those things go to the back of your mind and you're more worried about playing than doing anything else."
Coach Joel Quenneville said Alexande Khavanov probably will get more work, taking Pronger's duties on the power play and penalty killing.
Demitra, who led the team in scoring last season, is expected back from a bruised retina after the All-Star Game. Handzus is out at least another month and the return of the other two is uncertain.
"We can feel sorry for ourselves for 24 hours," Pleau said. "After that, we move on."
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