NHL Drops the Ball on Chara

The NHL has decided that Boston’s Zdeno Chara will not be fined or suspended for his vicious hit on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty. Once again, the league has dropped the ball and has failed to show consistency when it comes to suspending and fining players.

Pacioretty was removed from the ice taped to a stretcher. He suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra on the play. As of the last update, the Habs forward had feeling and movement in his extremities. There has been no statement released as to when or if Pacioretty will be able to return to action. He is listed as being out “indefinitely.”

Because his son plays for Boston, the league’s usual VP in charge of handing out fines and suspensions, Colin Campbell was not involved in the league’s decision on Chara. The decision not to suspend the Bruins defenseman was made by Senior Vice President Mike Murphy.

In a statement announcing his decision, Murphy described the hit as, “a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface.”

“After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline,” Murphy added.”This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly — with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards. I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous.”

There are several issues that need to be looked at here but the biggest one appears to be intent. There is a history between the two players however, that suggests that there very likely was some intent on the play.

On January 8, Chara thought Pacioretty was a little too enthusiastic in celebrating the Habs overtime game winning goal. The big Bruins defenseman threw several punches after the celebration and Pacioretty was one of the three players he tried to hit. Chara received a 10-minute misconduct as a result of his actions.

On February 9, the infamous brawl filled game between the Canadiens and Bruins, Chara got involved in a scrum and threw two punches at Pacioretty’s head while another Bruin was holding back Pacioretty’s arms. There was clearly a recent history of bad blood between the two players.

There are several reasons that Chara should have been suspended for last night’s incident. The hit was clearly late and as described by many analysts (who are former players) as “unnecessary.” The puck was already well past Pacioretty. There is a recent history between the two players and the two teams and the injury in this case was severe. And while the play happened quickly, it was Chara, not Pacioretty, who had a better view of where the glass was jutting out just before he made contact with his opponent.  In addition, Pacioretty did nothing to instigate this particular incident.

There are several things working in Chara’s favor.  He does not have a history of dirty play and is not considered a “repeat offender” by the league. He also clearly showed remorse and concern after the fact which at least should act as a mitigating circumstance.

But past history usually reduces or adds to the length of a suspension but does not eliminate it. It is too easy for fans to say that Chara got favorable treatment because he is a perennial All-Star. This was a dangerous hit and it needs to be addressed.

The league’s policy on fines and suspensions should be easily understood and consistent. Right now, it is neither. Try explaining that to Max Pacioretty.

Now that no suspension has been issued, does anybody care to guess what is going to happen when Chara and the Bruins take to the Garden ice against the Canadiens on March 24?

The league could have done something to prevent that. It didn’t.


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6 Responses to “NHL Drops the Ball on Chara”

  1. Brian Fluharty
    March 9, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    I do not understand your assessment of how the NHL “dropped the ball” with Chara.

    First of all, I am not sure if the history you describe between Chara and Pacioretty is particularly important to the case at hand. Players with a long past history of brawls is not particular unique nor strongly discouraged in this league, and is a lot different than having a dirty player with a record of several hits of questionable intent (Cook vs Tyutin, Savard, Anisimov, Cole, etc).

    Secondly. The same experts that you cite as describing the hit as “late and unnecessary” go on to say how the same hit would result in maybe a two minute interference call elsewhere on the ice. So my question is- are you suggesting that the NHL prescribe fines and suspensions based on the outcome of the hit? No injury- maintain status quo and continue play, a fractured vertebra yields a 5 game suspension, and if you kill a player and you get sent down to the AHL? Or maybe fines should be given out based on stylistic merit: one foot left the ice- 2 games, both feet off the ice and leading with an elbow- 5 games.

    I do agree with you that the NHL needs to change and that the current policies are anything but clear and consistent. But, I fail to see how suspending Chara would help this.

  2. Mike Maloni
    March 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    It was message check for sure but I don’t think in anybody’s imagination Zdeno Chara wanted to fracture veterbrae or give Pacioretty a concussion. Maybe he just wanted to knock him down to get him to fight! I have watched him over the years and I don’t see him as a guy out there to hurt people. He’s just 6’7″ and that is a monstrosity problem not a dirty player problem. Zdeno is a big dude and helping people to emmergency ward isn’t his style.

  3. John Holbrooke
    March 11, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    The NHL did drop the ball. When has anyone heard of a 5 minute major and a game misconduct for interference? I was not a “hockey play”. Chara was correctly tossed from the game.

    Everyone agrees that it a foul. The player who committed the foul continues to play. The fouled player is in the hospital with a broken neck and a concussion. The NHL needs to suspend players for at least as long as it takes for the injured player to return. If the injury ends a player’s career, that should end the player’s career who committed the foul.

    Right, Mr. Bertuzzi?

  4. Jay MF
    March 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I feel strongly that this ‘ injury ‘ is the result of a SERIOUS design flaw of our arenas in general. I am not the only one who feels this way as I have read many comments on discussion boards to this effect. If there was a dangerous obstacle on my job-sight, WCB would be all over it and have the hazard removed! I do feel that the steps that have been taken to eliminate dangerous hits from the game are a step in the right direction, and there will always be those in the heat of the game that will push it past the limit, the next step is to legislate our athletes a safe work environment. Now it is up to the engineers to come up with a solution that works for everybody.

  5. davew
    March 15, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    I agree – the NHL blew it. Look closely at the replay – at the last second Charra shoved Pacioretty’s head with a forearm. It was intended to send a message but not to hurt (normally it would be a head push on the glass which with helmet would probably not cause serious injury). Nevertheless, the NHL is too loose on head hits and I think there should be a penalty based on intent (as judged by the referee) – accidental head hits 2 minutes, others from 5 min. to game misconduct. This was not “accidental” in Charra’s intent – it was only accidental in the resulting degree of injury. Yes, the NHL should use lighter and softer materials for posts that are exposed, including goal posts. But the head shots need to go and penalizing all of them would be a deterrent.


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