On Chara-gate


By now, everyone in Montreal, Beantown and everywhere in between knows about the ugly hit by Zdeno Chara that landed Max Pacioretty in the hospital with a possible career-ending fractured vertebra and concussion:

It still hurts to re-watch. And not just because we all know the outcome.

With the news that no discipline would be forthcoming from the NHL, Montreal fans – understandably – went a little nuts, demanding justice, decrying the NHL, and calling for heads to roll.

On the hit: It was ugly, that’s unquestionable. It was illegal, that’s also unquestionable, and Chara got a game misconduct for it. It was frightening to watch, because we know how it turned out. And it was part of a high-energy, high-speed game, delivered by a guy who isn’t known for using his size to injure but certainly has it in him. And the fact that Pacioretty was having his breakout season and playing first-line solid hockey only made it that much harder of a blow to absorb.

On intent: Did Chara mean to hurt Pacioretty? He says no. I’m inclined to believe him, with a caveat: I think that, within the context of hockey, he was trying to get back at Pacioretty and this was a continuation of the feud that they had going on for a few games. In other words, I don’t think this was just an accidental check gone wrong. Since a Habs-Bruins playoff matchup is a strong possibility, I’d even allow that teams start to play dirty and there’s some intent to injure going on with good players. But it’s not the same as intent to injure, off-ice, and I’m sure that’s what has the league wringing its hands at how to mete out punishment.

On bias: Mike Murphy had to make this call because Colin Campbell was biased, what with his son Gregory playing for Boston. This isn’t the first time that Campbell has needed to recuse himself from a disciplinary decision, either. I still think he should have resigned the minute his son made it to the NHL. But it does argue that there’s too much discretion in these kinds of disciplinary decisions. Either way, the rules need to be clearer, and there can’t be so much in the hands of one man.

On criminal prosecution: Nope, don’t agree with it here. Despite the massive public pressure and outcry in the wake of the NHL’s decision not to suspend Chara (and seriously, people, tying up the 9-1-1 line for hockey? Not cool.) I don’t believe that there’s any place for criminal charges in hockey, unless the incident was outside the boundaries of the game and crossed the line to something else entirely. Trying to get the courts involved is just another way of absolving the NHL of responsibility for this kind of stuff. It happens within the parameters of the game, which makes it the NHL’s responsibility.

On violence in hockey: Is the game too violent? Is there too much fighting? Should we make them all wear bubbles and carry sticks made out of foam? Hell no. I like my hockey fast-paced, hard-hitting and tough, and I suspect most of the league’s fans do too. But there’s a difference between a clean hit and a dirty one, and that’s where I think the system is broken.

The bottom line: If you rob a store and wave a gun around only meaning to scare the clerk, but you accidentally shoot him, sorry, you’re going down for murder.

Likewise, I think the rule should be simple in hockey: If you injure a guy on an illegal play, accident or not, you’re out as long as he is. If he misses the season, so do you. If you end his career, you’re gone too.

Implement this rule, enforce it a few times so the players understand it’s serious, and watch the ugly headshots disappear like magic.

Speedy recovery, Patches.

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