Thursday, March 10, 2011

Zdeno Chara, Max Pacioretty Fallout: An NHL Backlash Is Growing

by Kamal Panesar

After Zdeno Chara knocked out Max Pacioretty on Tuesday night—Pacioretty is out indefinitely with a severe concussion and a fractured cervical vertebra—the NHL saw fit to hand out exactly zero games of suspension and a zero dollar fine to the Bruins defenseman yesterday.

Well, from the moment the decision was announced there has been a massive backlash against the NHL that seems to be growing by the minute.

Bloggers, fans and media alike are furious for various reasons that the NHL deemed the play a "hockey play" with no further punishment required.

During the course of the day today it was announced that the Montreal police would be launching a criminal investigation into the Chara hit, and yesterday the Canadian House of Commons, led by Michael Ignatieff, said that if the league did not take action to curb concussions and hits to the head, they would.

In addition, Air Canada, the NHL's largest sponsor, sent a strongly worded letter to the league telling it that if it did not take immediate action to rectify a problem that has become a plague in the league, they would pull their corporate sponsorship.

Clearly this is not just a case of homerism from Habs fans, but rather a public outcry that seems to be getting louder by the hour.

The Crux of the Matter

Many, if not most people, have been arguing the point of intent and whether or not Chara had the intent to injure Pacioretty.

While I don't think that Chara intended for Patches to be as badly injured as he is, he certainly did intend to delivery a painful body check in a dangerous area of the rink, and for that he should be held accountable.

Intent is a curious thing because without a confession, it is nigh on impossible to prove. As such, and since it wasn't called on the ice in the form of an attempt to injure penalty, I say that it is time to take intent out of the conversation.

What is important is that Chara's play was reckless and illegal—interference—and caused a severe injury to the Canadiens player. How then can the league say that it was merely a "hockey play" meriting no further suspension?

If I was driving my car at 80 kilometers per hour in a 50 zone and I hit and killed someone, I wouldn't be charged with first-degree murder—which is premeditated—but I would certainly not get off scot-free.

My action would be reckless, and as such I would likely receive a charge of manslaughter or second-degree murder, for which I would most certainly expect some jail time.

Looking at the Chara hit on Pacioretty, and again, removing intent from the discussion, Chara made a reckless play that damn near killed another player but did not receive any supplementary discipline.

How can that make sense in any world, especially in the NHL, where concussions and head shots seem to happen far too often and where the league has said it wants to curb them?

The amazing thing is that as much as the league talks about wanting to get head shots out of the game, it continually drops the ball when given the chance to send a message.

So should Chara have been suspended because he intended to hurt Pacioretty? No. But he should have been suspended for a reckless play that almost cost Pacioretty his life.

Instead, they sent the message that if you insult another player's girlfriend, as Sean Avery did a few years back by calling Elisha Cuthbert—who was then dating Dion Phaneuf—"sloppy seconds," you get a six-game suspension.

However, if you make a reckless play on the ice that comes frighteningly close to ending another person's life, it's just part of the game and you should not be held accountable.

Wow, it sounds like the lunatics are running the asylum to me, and I think that the NHL is in need of a serious change at the top before someone gets killed on the ice.

A Note on Air Canada

A good friend of mine, Chris, used to be involved in auto racing at a very high level and at one point had a meeting with Air Canada to discuss them becoming a sponsor of his racing team.

Chris, who excels at face-to-face meetings, charmed the pants off them by talking about his team's passion to win and even going so far as explaining his vision of what an Air Canada-sponsored car would look like!

Well, needless to say, the AC execs loved his plan, enthusiasm and ideas but said that there was no way they could become a sponsor. Their reason was that Air Canada, as an airline, could not associate itself with anything or any sport that has the continual potential for people to die. Given that many people are scared to fly to start with, aligning itself with something that can make people think about death was a non-starter.

So while some are saying that Air Canada's public condemnation of the NHL and pressure on it to make changes is a pure PR play, I think there could be a lot more to it than that.

When Pacioretty fell to the ice, there were many, myself included, who thought he was dead. Personally, I felt that it was that seminal moment in hockey history that many have talked about and everyone has feared—where a player would die on live television because of a reckless play.

That he survived and is not more seriously injured is a miracle, but it made many people realize just how close the NHL came to losing a life.

It is time for the league to make a serious deviation from their hands-off mentality, because the next time a player is hit like that, he might not get up.

Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on and Habs writer on Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images North America)


Well said. I have been trying to make the same point with friends and colleagues.

Hi Josh and thanks for your comment!

For me, you have to take intent out of the discussion, as much as people don't want to, because you can't prove anything.

My fear is that if people focus on intent they are missing the point and that is that a reckless play caused a serious injury and the NHL is apparently OK with that.

Oh shit I know how to prove intent (to an extent)! I'm on my phone and about to work, but I'll be back to explain after the game. It has to do with impact force & stanchion threshold...


Ps I hear ya Kamal, but Im stubborn and don't want to open another account just to remove the anonymous handle :(

Chara being criminally investigated is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of. There was no criminal act of any sort! You kept mentioning how 'it was lucky he didn't die' but in reality, the whole thing was a freak accident. If it had of happened anywhere else on the ice, he would have been fine. In my opinion, it shouldn't be up to the players to make sure they don't hit people on certain parts of the ice (it will just make it more confusing and lead to stupid plays), it should be up to the league to make sure the ice is safe for players. Chara got what he deserved in his penalty because thats all it was.

Good article and A well reasoned argument. It is true that one can not get into a person's head to determine their intentions. as your example of a murder demonstrates. and in this particular situation it does not take a lawyer (wait, Bettman is a lawyer and still doesn't get it) to demonstrate that there was a physical element committed and, given their past history, there was a probable mental element to the act.

Another point to take into consideration is, as in the murder example mentioned above, the burden of proof is high in criminal law while it is a much lower standard in disciplinary cases and deals with several lines of evidence. A fact that Mike Murphy and Colin Campbell often seem to overlook.

I have a few thoughts for the anonymous comment above my own. While I am fully conscious of the inherent risk involved in the sport of hockey, I can not believe that a Norris Trophy winner does not know exactly where he was on the ice at all times and what he was doing. In my opinion, this was no unfortunate accident but an intentional act and retribution for past perceived transgressions.

Furthermore, if I were to commit such an act, outside an arena, I would certainly expect severe consequences. As many NHL players are expressing their frustrations on the record (e.g., Sedin, Thornton and to a certain extent Gomez and probable in private in locker rooms) and owners are equally voicing their frustrations at the way the league handles discipline(e.g., Lemieux and Molson) it is plain that the league can not police itself.

While this will put the NHLPA in a difficult position, what I hope to see at the next round of negotiations for the new CBA, is Donald Fehr taking a stand, for the good of the player's health, and insisting that an independent 3rd party, with the necessary background and experiences) be nominated to hand out fines and suspensions.

I hope that Max Pacioretty heals well and resume his career because he deserves that much. Remember, that his parents were at the game and no parent should go through what they have just witnessed. It is too bad when the league's lame response is basically to say, sad but that is life.

Kamal, on another note, I hope your friend was at least offered a job with Air Canada. But I understand the Exec who does not want to see a car crash with a big Air Canada logo on it. Does not do much for consumer confidence in the brand and it is hard enough to get people. Funny that until legislation was put in place to stop tobacco companies from advertising on race cars, they had no problem with the issue.


Hey there Anonymous (the last one)...

I agree about the criminal investigation and ultimately I doubt it will yield anything as intent is VERY difficult to proves.

This is not a legal matter, imo, this is a matter of the NHL changing their attitude about head shots and concussions.

While the catalyst is definitely Chara/Pacioretty this is actually much bigger than either of them.

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