Repercussions, reactions and tremors continue in wake of NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy decision not to suspend Boston's Zdeno Chara for his hit on the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty. Thus far, there has been shock and dismay in reaction from many quarters. Writers and fans in both NHL cities are baffled and stunned. Air Canada is threatening to pull its advertising. There has also been a reaction directed at the NHL from question period in the Canadian House of Commons and calls to Montreal Police to file complaints over the incident in order to launch an investigation.
The long and short of it is that the NHL once again missed the boat at a crucial time when it could have sent out a strong and far reaching statement by means of a sound and decisive conclusion. Give Mike Murphy credit for but one thing - his decision was consistent with Colin Campbell's notorious inconsistency.
From an article back in 2009, calling NHL discipline "Dartboard Justice," NESN columnist Jack Edwards had this to say about Colin Campbell
The only person who seems to understand Colin Campbell's pattern of punishment is Campbell himself. The suspensions he hands down are arbitrary and erratic -- swayed by non-evidence, hunch, gut feelings, anecdotes and back-channel influence peddlers -- and they are almost never clearly explained. He establishes precedent and contradicts it. He makes exceptions based on flawed premises and then concludes his arguments illogically and capriciously. No one, no one, knows what is allowed and what is not allowed. It is Dartboard Justice."
Edwards' article was again brought to light back in November of 2010, when controversy erupted over e-mails Campbell sent to officials regarding calls against his son Greg, now a Bruins player, and matters involving Marc Savard, not then a Bruin.
Although not rendered by Campbell himself, Murphy's lack of clarity and vision in his decision on Chara is typical of Campbell inexplainable inconsistency. It's as though he made the call himself, and placed Murphy's name on the press release, which was worded as follows:
"After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline. This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly -- with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards. I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous. This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface. In reviewing this play, I also took into consideration that Chara has not been involved in a supplemental discipline incident during his 13-year NHL career."
To pick this apart, it is doubtful the review was thorough at all. The video is only a portion of the evidence. Photo stills better show the placement of Chara's body and forearm upon impact. Pacioretty was not consulted for his side of things. A call was placed to Chara at noon, and a decision given by Murphy a little over two hours later. Not speaking to Pacioretty is hardly thorough.
Noting "a play that evolved and happened very quickly" is asine terminology in hockey. Everything happens fast. Again, slow the video down and look at different still shots.
"Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards," is mentioned, and this of course did happen, but it is not factored by Murphy that Chara chose to rub Pacioretty out where he did, which is particular to the crux of the argument. It is also noted that it was correctly called interference, as the puck had left the play a second or two prior, but in noting that a correct call was made, there is no further exploration into why the player felt the late hit was neccessary.
Chara's explanation for the injury, post game, was that he felt Pacioretty jumped some upon being hit. No video evidence shows this. The Montreal player was simply striding to outrace Chara. From an opposite angle, Pacioretty's arm rises in protection as he approaches the stanchion, but he never jumps. If this was Chara's explanation to Murphy, it is baffling that it was accepted.
Murphy noted that he "found no evidence...that Chara targeted the head of his opponent," while photos showing Chara's forearm guiding Pacioretty's head into the turnbuckle went viral on the internet yesterday.
Murphy also points that he saw no evidence of Chara leaving his feet to make the hit. Chara, for crying out loud, is six feet, nine inches tall. He does not ever need leave his feet to complete a check. What a crock to even make mention of it.
To sum up, Murphy falls back on the age old "hockey play" as an explanation, ultimately blaming the stanchion for the result of the injury. Finishing a hit, late and long after it is neccessary does not constitute a hockey play at all. It is something else entirely, which is where and why words such as "intent, responsibility and accountability" enter in question.
In other cases, some quite similar, the responsibility and accountability of a player in regards to particular circumstance have been employed in ruling in favour of a suspension, but not in this instance. One supposes that if a player were to purposely fire a puck into another's teeth, the puck would be blamed....or absolved.
Upon the NHL's decision being rendered yesterday afternoon, the reaction to it was quite fierce. Some said it was akin to a second gut punch, and others summised that it left them feeling numb, sickened, and inconsequential as fans.
Much of the criticism centered around the NHL's knack for eluding what is at the heart of each incident, by habitually shifting their focus point. What is and isn't a hockey play, many suggest, is being blurred by the league itself, as everytime a standard seems to have been set, it is then defied, and that for every case in which a defiition is followed, it is then rewritten in almost identical situations.
When players involved in incidents have histories of supplemental discipline, that fact is wisely considered, but as all players at one time have had a clean record, invoking the distinction is practically meaningless. In this case, it could be stated that Chara has a history of eluding supplemental discipline. He has in the past been part of incidents the NHL has chosen not to rule on, and has been involved in other infractions now punishable by updated league standards, relatively speaking.
Yesterday in this site's comments, EOTP regular Chris Boyle made a succinct point to illustrate how the NHL works at refusing to be pinned down. I was working at making a case against Chara based on intent to injure, but Chris countered that intent is a hard target to hit with dartboard justice.
"Intent to injure is a shell game that can be moved at any time depending on perspective," he said. "It is why the NHL uses it because it does not tie them down and allows them to make decisions at their own discretion with zero accountability."
This is a strong observation, as the NHL shell game not only applies to perceived intent, the shell game also covers their tails no matter the perspective.
Take the gravity of an injury for instance, as several point makers believe the resulting injury from an incident and its gravity are keys to determining the length of a suspension or whether one is applicable at all.
The NHL, Campbell and Murphy, have played the shell game with resulting injuries as well. Take the November 2008 incident in which the Canadiens Tom Kostopoulos hit the Maple Leafs Mike Van Ryn from behind.
In the judgement handing Kostopoulos a three-game suspension, Campbell stated "While it is my determination that Kostopoulos did not deliver a check to an unsuspecting opponent, his actions caused injuries."
As in the Chara case yesterday, the release further take great pains to absolve the perpetrator's actions, which is somewhat baffling after suspending him. Curiously, they placed a measure of responsibility on the victim, which is again baffling considering they suspended Kostopoulos.
"We have criteria we use when we look at these hits. It wasn't a hit to the head. It resulted in a check from behind, which is not legal, and then his head hit the glass. It wasn't late. Van Ryn wasn't unsuspecting. He knew there was a forechecker coming. He had the puck, he expected to be played. He started to reverse direction to evade the forechecker and that's when the hit happened. There was an injury to the player, and the player didn't leave his skates, he didn't jump into him."
Sure, there is criteria, just no consistency is knowing when and how to apply it to incidents. Applying the same criteria from the Van Ryn hit to the Chara incident should have worked in this case, but it fails in the shell game perspective.
"Not a hit to the head."
In Chara's case, Murphy either misses it or misinterprets it.
"Check from behind?"
Not quite in this case, but Chara is a stride to a half-stride away, from the side, and sort of behind Pacioretty.
Pacioretty appears at the last instant to raise his left arm protectively, as he approaches the stanchion, so no, he was not totally unsuspecting. Did he imagine at any point that he would be ridden into the turnbuckle? That is doubtful.
"He knew there was a forechecker coming. He had the puck."
Pacioretty knew Chara was coming, but he no longer had the puck. That fact seems only to have importance within the context of a minor or major penalty, for some unknown reason, and not the resultant grave injury.
"There was an injury to the player." Is Pacioretty not hospitalized?
"The player didn't leave his skates, he didn't jump into him."
Chara, of course, does not need to leave his skates or jump, but the criteria here seems to imply an added thrust to the hit, where it is deemed uneccessary. Chara may have used his arm to shove or guide Pacioretty, but he surely didn't throw his whole body into it, or Max would be dead.
All told, sometimes there's a nugget under the shell, sometimes it's up a sleeve.
Decisions are confusing, blurry, and contradictory. Need more proof, look no further than this same incident wherein Murphy explains how Campbell proceeds.
"Colie says every one is different, every one is a little unique," said Murphy. "You have to put yourself in his (the offending player's) shoes. He looks at all aspects of these things, he analyzes them and compares them. You want him doing this on a case-by-case basis. You don't want them clumped together with a bunch of other plays. He looks at each one individually and makes his decision."
So, incidents, each one, is different from another.
"We have some plays over the course of the last 3-4 seasons that we equate this play to. We have some protocol in the past, we align them and we say this is a similar play. You can go higher, you can go lower."
Okay, so now, some are the same.
Isn't this almost an admittance of a shell game no one can pin down?
What Murphy and Campbell might as well be projecting from all this nonsense is not far from this:
"It was a different day. The weather had changed and we were wearing the same shirt, but only with different and stiffer collars. It wasn't the same two players in the same place doing the same thing, but it was similar in that it was two different players doing the same thing in a different place. The last it was dangerous, and there could have been a serious injury. This time it was not so dangerous, but a a seriously injury resulted. Logically, we gave the guy two games less this time, because last time, were handed out more."
No wonder the NHL is lampooned!
Chris Boyle also tapped into something that comes across a much better standardizing method than the shells currently in place. He says "The NHL should punish accountability, not intent. Chara is accountable in that situation regardless of his intent and his actions may have destroyed not only a career, but a player’s life."
It should also be added that the result of an infraction defines the incident. There should be no hurry to impose a sentence, as it now stands, and the NHL should have to report and publish all findings from conversations involving player participants, witnesses on both sides and medical personel. Teams should also be able to appeal decisions, with a process in place to handle such matters arbitrarily.
Often, you will read a sentence similar to "what is the NHL waiting for, someone to be killed?"
If that's the goal, and the NHL is an open net, the Chara incident has just rung one off the post.
Below are links to articles and clips referrenced in this post.