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

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 03:  Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins skates in the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 3, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2017

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 60 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.


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