If it was up to the Canadiens' faithful, Zdeno Chara would never put on a pair of skates again.
Likewise, Bruins' fans think it was simply an unfortunate play in a high-speed, physical game.
So, did Chara intentionally run Pacioretty into the turnbuckle between the Bruins and Habs' bench? Or was it simply a freak occurrence in a physical sport?
Honestly, I don't know.
The video is certainly sickening to watch, but after watching it multiple times and trying to come to a verdict, I don't know if it's possible to definitively say that Chara intentionally guided Pacioretty's head into the turnbuckle. Looking at the play as a whole, the situation becomes even murkier.
Pacioretty had been causing fits for the Bruins all game. On the play in question, Pacioretty chipped the puck past Chara and was using his speed to burn him to the outside. If Chara doesn't interfere on the play, Pacioretty is in on an odd man rush on Rask who, frankly, hadn't been stopping anything all game.
Was it interference? Definitely.
Was Chara mad and frustrated? Most likely.
I believe Chara saw an opportunity to lay a hard hit on Pacioretty. If it had been someone other than Max beating him to the outside, he may have simply hooked or held them instead of going for a hard rub out along the boards.
But none of this proves that Chara knowingly guided Max Pacioretty's head into the turnbuckle. Innocent until proven guilty.
Maybe I'm naive, but Zdeno Chara has never struck me as a guy would intentionally put a fellow player's life at risk. Being free of intent doesn't mean Chara should get a pass on consequences, though.
When I was growing up in Edmonton, I lived in the same neighbourhood for 18 years. There was an elementary school, along with a playground, soccer field, and outdoor rink five minutes from my house. I attended that school for six years, and spent countless hours on the playground and the outdoor rink growing up.
I'd walked and driven through that school zone thousands of time on the way home from work, school, hockey practice, etc. When I got my drivers license in high school, I drove through that school zone every morning for two-and-a-half years. I probably could have successfully navigated that road blindfolded. That was how familiar I was with my neighbourhood.
One morning, when I was driving to class, I was distracted. I had been up late the night before cramming for a Chemistry test, and I had a sneaking suspicion that I'd left my Macbeth essay on the kitchen table. As I was fiddling with the radio and trying to remember the difference between polar and non-polar molecules, I heard honking and shouting.
I looked up to see a nine year old kid standing in the crosswalk not 15 feet away from me. Luckily, it was May and the roads weren't icy, so I was able to stop before hitting him. If I had hit him, though, and he had been injured or worse, I still would have been held accountable—regardless of whether it was my intention to run him over with my car or not. At the very least, I would have been guilty of negligence.
As we all know, it often doesn't matter what would happen in the real world when an incident like this occurs. Pro sports seem to exist in a bubble where things are allowed to take place that would not be acceptable under other circumstances.
For a guy who has spent his entire life playing hockey—who has spent the entirety of his playing career within the Northeast Division and has therefore played and practiced in the Bell Center countless times—Chara should have been aware of where he was on the ice, and should not have tried to finish Max Pacioretty.
I can sympathize with Habs' fans wanting their pound of flesh. If it had been Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle who had been caught by Chara, this article would probably be a profanity-laced, all-caps rant about how Chara should be banned from the NHL for at least a season, if not life.
Going back to my story about almost hitting a child with my car, if I had run into him and he had been injured or worse, I would have been held accountable. However, I can't say how far the punishment would have gone. I'm no lawyer, but I would have to imagine that I would have gotten off without any jail time. Like it or not, intent does matter.
Part of me almost wishes that Chara had knowingly and intentionally rammed the head of Max Pacioretty into the partition, because than at least I'd be able to draw a straight line of blame from the play to Zdeno Chara. I'd be able to rationalize this as the action of a specific, malicious individual that the NHL could throw the book at.
I know that Chara and Pacioretty have history, but as it stands right now, it's simply a freak play with no rhyme or reason. And honestly, that scares me. The thought that this could potentially happen again to anyone at anytime scares the hell out of me.
This is another black eye on the sport that I love—a sport that already has a poor reputation in many parts of the world.
I don't what the answer is. Maybe adding more padding to the turnbuckle or moving them back a couple of feet could prevent something like this from ever happening again. Maybe throwing Chara out of the game for a long period of time will make me feel better, but right now I don't think that would be the right thing to do. Innocent until proven guilty.
Here's one thing we can all agree on: I hope Max Pacioretty makes a full and speedy recovery.
Update: Chara will not be suspended or fined.