If you’re anything like me, you reacted to yesterday’s uproar over the NHL’s decision to levy no penalty on Zdeno Chara by asking, “What’s a hawk-key?” Then you punched your screen in a couple times because some asshat decided to flood YouTube with a bunch of non-videos of that hit everyone was talking about. Well fear not, we’re here to bring video justice to the masses. And I’ll even do my part to spare you the inane fanboyism that makes up Boston’s sports commentating industry and go with the Montreal’s Martin McGuire et Dany Dubé. Unfortunately, I have no idea what they’re saying but I assume it has something to do with poutine and universal healthcare. The hit happens right away, with a slow motion replay around :40.
For those who don’t know, Pacioretty was hospitalized with a factured vertebrae, and the NHL decided against suspending Chara from play, despite the cries of many a Canadiens fan that a top offensive prospect may have lost his entire career at Chara’s hands. Controversy, I smells it. Now, the hit itself may seem relatively mundane and not overly aggressive. In fact, infinitely more damage is clearly delivered by the glass than by Chara hismelf. So the real question becomes, “to what degree was Chara actually trying to use the turnbuckle?” Nobody’s saying he wanted to break the guy’s freaking neck, but a player at the highest level has to know where he is on the ice. Doesn’t he?
One man who certainly thinks so is Max Pacioretty.
“I believe he was trying to guide my head into the turnbuckle. We all know where the turnbuckle is. It wasn’t a head shot like a lot of head shots we see but I do feel he targeted my head into the turnbuckle.”
“I am upset and disgusted that the league didn’t think enough of (the hit) to suspend him,” Pacioretty told TSN. “I’m not mad for myself, I’m mad because if other players see a hit like that and think it’s okay, they won’t be suspended, then other players will get hurt like I got hurt.
“It’s been an emotional day. I saw the video for the first time this morning. You see the hit, I’ve got a fractured vertebrae, I’m in hospital and I thought the league would do something, a little something,” said Pacioretty.
“I’m not talking a big number, I don’t know, one game, two games, three games…whatever, but something to show that it’s not right.”
For better or worse, it seems the NHL may not have the brass to crack down on “devistating hits” like the NFL did earlier this year. Recall the uproar when Roger Goodell expanded the definition of what constitutes punishable offenses. Now realize that Goodell can basically do what he wants – it’s not like you’re not going to cancel that Sunday Ticket to save some extra scratch and fly to the ArenaBowl, and the only thing the XFL ever did is wake up Vince McMahon in a cold sweat. Is the NHL scared that any limit on physicality could hurt viewership as they struggle to become a bigger player in American sports broadcasting? After all, spontaneous fist fighting is a part of the game. In fact, that is part of what makes this situations particularly difficult to legislate. There’s a fine line between giving fans the aggression they want to see and protecting the players that make the game great.
Since that ingrained physicality so thoroughly paints the sport with gray areas, the league often relies on character profiles before laying down the law on a particular player for a particular hit. In this case they cite Zdeno Chara’s clean record as evidence that he is not the kind of player to go head hunting. Many Habs fans would point out, however, that Max Pacioretty appears to be one exception to that record, as Chara took particular exception to being asked to leave the Canadiens’ celebration after Patch scored a game winner a few months back. In the following meeting, Chara fired back with a two-handed slash to the legs. Does that mean he intended to send the kid to the hospital? Of course not. But the words “no history” are a little misleading.
One thing’s for sure: While we enjoy the physical component of the game as much as in any other contact sports, near-death experiences on the ice are NOT what fans want to see. An NBC Sports poll showed (at the time of this post) that nearly 75% of voters think a suspension of some kind is in order. Others think that Chara did nothing wrong and a punishment would only be an emotional reaction to the severity of the unfortunate outcome.
Ridiculously enough, Montreal police have opened a criminal investigation, and even Candian Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls for the NHL to address the rise in serious injuries. In a move that could cause more harm than good, Air Canada has threatened to pull sponsorship if the league doesn’t reverse its position.
What say you? Weigh in below and duke it out “stick, gloves, shirt” style.