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.
Pronger, noted as an aggressive defenseman who has been suspended seven times previously by the league, was accused of intentionally stepping on Kesler's left leg as the two jockeyed along the back boards early in the second period of Wednesday's game.
The incident occurred after Pronger became entangled with Kesler, who had fallen to the ice. Kesler told the Vancouver Sun after the game, "He stomped on me ... He got me on the calf."
Colin Campbell, NHL senior vice president and director of hockey operations, said in a statement: "In attempting to free himself, Pronger carelessly and recklessly brought his foot down" on Kesler, who was not injured.
The statement said that Pronger is considered a repeat offender, and he will forfeit $609,756.08 in salary, which will go to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
"I'd like to apologize to Ryan Kesler, the Vancouver Canucks, my teammates and the National Hockey League for my actions last Wednesday night," Pronger said in a statement. "While I did not intend to injure Ryan, I respect the league's decision on this matter and look forward to returning to the ice and leading my teammates into the playoffs."
Ducks vice president and general manager Brian Burke added in a statement:
"We understand the NHL's determination to reduce skate-blade incidents and accept the process and Mr. Campbell's judgment. We also stand behind our captain, a player with great character and leadership qualities that are critical to our club."
On Friday, The Los Angeles Times and TSN of Canada reported that the NHL had reviewed tape of the play when it took place, and it appeared Pronger would not face any punishment. However, video of the play from a different angle was provided late Thursday, prompting the league to take another look.
"We viewed the incident the night that it happened but we did not have the isolation view until [Thursday] night around 10 p.m.," Mike Murphy, NHL vice president of hockey operations, told The Los Angeles Times on Friday. "Once we saw it clearly and up close, our antennas went up."
Video replays show Kesler fell after hitting Pronger while forechecking behind the Anaheim goal. Pronger's right foot was caught between Kesler's legs, and the tape shows that after Pronger got loose, his right foot appeared to come up and go down on Kesler's left calf.
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.
The incident has prompted some questions about favoritism toward the league's stars. Chris Simon, a journeyman player suspended eight times in his 16 seasons, received a league-record 30-game suspension after he stomped on Pittsburgh Penguins forward
Jarkko Ruutu's leg in a game earlier this season, when he was with the New York Islanders. Simon was sent to the Minnesota Wild at the trading deadline.
"It would be nice to have things treated fairly, at least,"
Simon said after the Wild practiced on Friday. "I don't think in
that instance it's fair at all. I couldn't believe right away that
nothing was going to be done about it. I still can't believe it."
Pronger was to begin serving his eighth career suspension on Saturday night when the defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks hosted the St. Louis Blues.
"[Pronger's] a tough player and an aggressive player," Ottawa Senators defenseman Luke Richardson said to TSN on Friday.
"[There's] probably a double standard, I think sometimes if you are a superstar you might get a little bit of a benefit of the doubt, but also works against you that if he plays and he's a repeat offender, sometimes that might work against you, too."
Pronger, who said he wasn't surprised by the suspension, will be eligible to return April 6 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
"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."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.