NHL Changes Rule 41: Is This a Response to Zdeno Chara's Hit on Max Pacioretty?

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NHL Changes Rule 41: Is This a Response to Zdeno Chara's Hit on Max Pacioretty?
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

In the evening of Monday, September 19th on the first day of NHL preseason play, NHL.com released an article detailing two rule changes that will affect this season.

The two rules affected were Rule 48 (regarding illegal checks to the head) and Rule 41 (regarding boarding).

The rule change is described as follows:

"This season, a boarding penalty will be assessed to a player who checks or pushes a defenseless player in a manner that causes the player to have a potentially violent and/or dangerous impact with the boards. The word 'pushes' was added to the rule and 'defenseless' replaced the word 'vulnerable.'"

Adding the word "push" is a peculiar decision.

During a game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens on March 8, 2011, a dangerous collision took place.

Late in the second period, the teams lined up for a faceoff.

From the face-off, the puck found its way towards the area of the two teams' benches. Montreal's Max Pacioretty skated hard towards the puck and tipped it out of his zone. Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara unsuccessfully attempted to keep the puck in the offensive zone with his stick.

Chara then shoved Pacioretty from the side, towards the bench area.

The contact happened less than four feet from the glass that separates the two benches. By the time Chara finished his push, Pacioretty's head and neck were smashing against the glass.

Pacioretty went down to the ice unconscious, laying there for six minutes. He needed to be removed from the ice on a stretcher, suffering a concussion and vertebral fracture.

Though Chara was given a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for the hit, the Bruins' captain was inexplicably not suspended.

Calling the damage intentional would be accusatory, but reviewing all of the circumstances regarding the play makes it hard to reject that assumption.

It was a 4-0 game at the time, applying this hit did nothing towards helping the situation that play had conjured; the puck had already been cleared into the Bruins' zone. It was an unimportant segment in a blowout game.

Chara did not have to finish that hit.

Furthermore, consider the history between these players.

Pacioretty scored an overtime-winning goal against the Bruins on January 8, 2011. After scoring the goal, Pacioretty taunted Chara and invoked a scrum.

What makes it more clear that this was revenge was Chara's reaction to the play. After seeing he was responsible for pushing a man's face into the glass and severely injuring him, Chara did not appear concerned.

Upon discovering the extent of the injuries, he simply said "It's just one of those things, like glass extensions, doors, even hockey nets are part of the game and obviously players run into them. It's just very, very unfortunate that a player got hurt."

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When asked if he would apologize, Chara claimed he never had a chance to.

Comparatively, consider an incident between Jody Shelley of the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston's Adam McQuaid.

In a game between those teams on December 11, 2010, Shelley pushed McQuaid in a manner that caused him to hit the boards. Immediately after the hit, while on the ice, Shelley was looking over McQuaid, clearly concerned for his health.

After Chara's hit, he simply skated away.

Shelley immediately apologized to McQuaid.

Compare the reactions of Shelley for his non-damaging hit on McQuaid to Chara's reaction to his very damaging hit on Pacioretty.

There is an obvious difference in the true concern of the aggressors in each instance.

Despite the level of danger the Chara hit carried, and the potential intentionality of it, the league chose not to suspend Chara.

Pacioretty said of the league's decision, "I am upset and disgusted that the league didn't think enough of (the hit) to suspend him... I'm mad because if other players see a hit like that and think it's okay, they won't be suspended, then other players will get hurt."

He felt the league needed to do "something to show that it's not right."

This new rule may be a response to that call.

The new description including "pushing" and "vulnerable" seem to make the rule match this play more.

Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's new leader of supplementary discipline, will need to be more consistent in those postgame decisions such as whether or not to suspend players for taking actions like Chara's.

Fortunately, the referees will be able to make calls that provide some preventive guidelines against dangerous actions, such as pushing a player into the boards.

The NHL makes a lot of mistakes regarding disciplinary decisions, but making the rule include "pushes" and not just "hits" is a step in the right direction.

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