The NHL has been receiving a lot of criticism from fans, players, media and just about everyone else with an opinion lately on its horribly inconsistent disciplinary punishments for players who demonstrate a clear disregard for the safety of other players.
With the announcement that there will be no suspension or disciplinary fine for Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara after his life-threatening hit against Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, the NHL appears to be doing nothing to respond to outraged teams, players and staff crying foul.
In case you haven't heard, Chara ran Pacioretty head-first into the glass between the benches at the Bell Centre in the dying seconds of the second period yesterday. The hit resulted in Pacioretty being taken off the ice on a stretcher.
The prognosis released this morning: a severe concussion and a non-displaced fractured fourth cervical vertebrae in his neck, according to NHL.com. Pacioretty's breakout season, where he has 14 goals and 24 points, is over, and right at a time where Montreal is jockeying with those same Boston Bruins for the lead in the Northeast division.
There's no questioning that hockey is a rough game, and with today's game being faster and today's athletes being better conditioned and better equipped than ever before, the body contact has become more brutal than ever.
I will not hesitate to say that there is definitely a place for contact in hockey. Heck, the contact and physical nature of hockey are what make it...well, hockey. Without the ability to be punished by opponents for holding on to the puck too long or skating with your head down, hockey would lose a great portion of its nature and its appeal to the more casual fans that the NHL is striving so hard to draw in deeper.
However, the NHL has failed to adequately address the problem of excessive violence, as seen with yesterday's hit. There have been many instances of the NHL not punishing players for hits to the head that have resulted in serious injuries.
This fact becomes even more frustrating when the Board of Governors worked so quickly to pass a rule to not only enable the league to punish players who targeted the opponent's head, but to require these types of punishments.
The rule was implemented so quickly at the end of last season that it caused a lot of problems then with inconsistent and seemingly biased enforcement, and despite having an entire summer to work out the bugs, the NHL has barely improved its enforcement of this highly demanded rule, if at all.
Now a hit has come along where a player not only targeted the head of an opponent, but also gave him a concussion and broke his neck. Think of it as the NHL getting a pass right on their stick three feet in front of an empty net...you'd think it'd be their time to shine and dish out a huge punishment to set a precedent and send a message to the rest of the league, but instead the NHL has more or less missed that empty net by 10 feet.
It can be argued that Chara didn't intend to injure Pacioretty as badly as he did, and I think there's some truth to that. Chara was doing his job as a defenseman by not only finishing his check, but also pinching the speedy Canadiens forward and thus preventing him from more or less walking around the much slower Chara to a loose puck and creating another scoring chance.
But that being said, with the game already sitting at a 4-0 score, the circumstances don't help Chara's case. The Bruins were already visibly frustrated at the time of the hit, and given the long, historic rivalry between the two clubs, there was no doubt an even bigger thorn in the Bruins' collective side.
All of these things really make a hit that already looked particularly ugly before the injury look a heck of a lot more like targeting the head with intent to injure.
I don't blame Chara for finishing his hit, but he also needs to know where he is on the ice and recognize that potential danger. Pacioretty may never return to hockey after this hit, and Chara will skate away from this completely clean.
Had someone like Sean Avery or Matt Cooke made this kind of a hit, there's little doubt in my mind that there would be a severe fine and several games of suspension handed down, but when a recognizable superstar (like Chara) is the one who throws the hit, it just looks to me like the NHL will turn a blind eye, much like the courts always seem to do with Lindsay Lohan.
Similar situations like this have arisen before multiple times with superstar Alexander Ovechkin, where the NHL has suspended him for a single game. Hits like those would be punished by multi-game suspensions were it done by another "average" player.
In conclusion: Regardless of whether or not Zdeno Chara intended to injure Max Pacioretty, he still threw one of the dirtiest hits of the season, and the NHL has absolutely failed to enforce its own disciplinary laws by not punishing the gigantic Slovakian defenseman. The NHL needs to stop playing favorites with its superstars and punish them the same way they would anyone else when a situation like this occurs.