Each year, the Mark Messier Leadership Award is given to a player in recognition of superior leadership through positive on ice abilities, motivation of teammates and dedication to the community. The award embodies everything that a fan, coach and organization would want from a player. The man who the award is named after is a Canadian hockey hero.
Messier is the only player in league history to have captained two teams to a Stanley Cup. He is a three-time Canada Cup winner. He is a two-time Hart Trophy winner. He is one of the greatest players to have ever laced up a pair of skates. Messier made the guarantee famous.
He was also a cheap-shot artist.
Throughout his time in the National Hockey League, Messier developed a reputation for being tough as nails. Unfortunately, this reputation was built on the broken teeth of his opponents. The famous Messier Elbow would be a weapon that he wouldn't hesitate to whip out in order turn the tide of a game.
Messier would frequently take out opposing players using blindside elbows to the head and jaw. Although he was a violent menace, he wasn't discriminatory. Stars as well as role players would often feel the wrath of Messier's elbow.
A quick YouTube search of Mark Messier Elbow reveals clips of the so called "greatest leader of all time" taking out the likes of Mike Modano, John De Gray, and Vladimir Kovin. Back in his day, Messier would be applauded for his behavior, demonstrating the sort of "truculence and pugnacity" needed to play the game we all know and love.
If Messier played in today's NHL, however, he likely would have been vilified by the same media that now praises him. Much was made of his recent entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hockey know-it-alls talked about his 694 goals, his 1,887 points, his six Stanley Cup rings and decreed him as a figure that players should look up to. Nobody mentioned how Messier very well could have killed someone on the ice.
To be fair, Messier isn't the only one who benefits from an overly flattering media. Scott Stevens is another former hockey great that benefits from the murky memory of the hockey world.
Aside from his fabulous defensive play, Stevens was a lethal weapon in his heyday. Opposing players would often regret treading into open areas while Stevens was on the ice. Ron Francis was hit so hard he couldn't stand up on his own. Paul Kariya was hit so hard he literally stopped breathing. Eric Lindros was hit by a Stevens head shot so vicious it would begin the downfall of his career.
Instead of being remembered for being a dirty player however, Stevens is remembered as a centerpiece of the New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup-winning teams, and is a player often emulated by players today.
This takes us to Zdeno Chara. Prior to last week's game in Montreal, Chara was most known for being a dominant defenseman for the ages. Now, he will be forever linked to the image of Max Pacioretty's head slamming into the turnbuckle at the Bell Center.
Habs Fans immediately began calling for a major suspension. The Montreal police were immediately inundated with calls to lay criminal charges against the big Slovak. One can only imagine how Chara would be thought of if he played two decades earlier.
This was not to take anything away from the careers of Messier and Stevens, or Chara for that matter. Fans should decide, however, how they want to remember their heroes from the past. It's blatant hypocrisy to idealize the likes of Messier and Stevens, only to demonize Chara.
If you're a fan of the good old days however, feel free to encourage Chara to take someone else's head off.