On Stanchions, Fast Hockey Plays and What Ifs

You almost have to credit Gary Bettman and his cronies for the marvelous spin doctoring they have been working since last Tuesday's incident between Zdeno Chara and Max Pacioretty. Who knows if they have placed a gag order on common sence, but in the past five days it is as if the mandate has been to work every angle in removing blame, accountability and responsibility from Chara's actions.

Pathetic, in a word, if you ask me.

If this is how they plan to go about solving the issue of out of control head shots, well the view of utopia is a dark one from a head implanted in the sand.

It's easily admitted that in this case, the stanchion in question played a role in Pacioretty injuries, yet the most dangerous element of the play remains Chara's raising of his forearm to the head of the player without the puck at a pivotal point in time and space.

In Florida yesterday, the league brought up statistics that showed concussions divided into four distinct (in the interpretation of the NHL) categories that brought them on. They were legal hits, illegal hits, fighting and accidents, with an emphasis being made that brain injuries arising from accidental shots to the head were gaining the most ground this past season.

In a question and answer session with Bettman on NHL Network that almost had a scripted feel, the commisioner tiptoed around his own referrence of "an incident this past week" that in essense placed the Chara hit in the "accidental" category, which is absolutely baffling, but totally in keeping with their continuous blaming of the stanchion for causing the injury.

Qualifying the hit as accidental, for the NHL, is all that they could do in this instance, as the act has not been deemed worthy of supplemental discipline. Surely, and again in their view, the hockey play could not be termed a legal hit, as the play had been penalized on the ice. Obviously, they could not be considering it an illegal hit, could they, even though, through all this, the fact that Pacioretty no longer had possession of the puck on the "hockey play" remains lost on the brilliant minds at work in the league?

But then again, perhaps the league files this one as a legal hit after all, based on this wording:

A legal hit, for purposes of this study, is a hit to the head or body that did not warrant either an on-ice penalty or supplemental discipline.

As always, the league makes applying even the most basic terminology one muddy proposition.

Reworded, this could be taken as meaning "a hit to the head, that officials failed to penalize on the ice (either by judgement or by simply missing the play) and that supplemetal discipline remained consistent with (or in this case, ignored), will be considered a legal hit for the purposes of this study.

So the Chara slam on Pacioretty is a legal hit, in one sense, by these terms, as it did not, in their view "warrant" supplemental discipline.

But here's the catch. On the ice, Chara's hit warranted (their word) a five minute interferrence penalty, as Pacioretty was deemed to have been hit while not in possession of the puck. Now five minute interferrence calls are rare and somewhat extreme. Bettman and Murphy have both reiterated that on the ice, this was the correct call to make.

The game misconduct handed to Chara, thereby removing him from the contest, was qualified by the league as officials managing the remainder of the game, so as to not have it degenerate into scenes remiscent of the game in Boston on February 9. By qualifying the misconduct in such terms, it makes for the second time Chara slips through the cracks of supplemental discipline when handed a misconduct. 

Perhaps for the purposes of these studies, three of the four qualifying categories should be renamed, with "accountable hits", replacing the legal hit, "irresponsible hits", replacing illegal hits that have caused injury, and accidental hits being further clarified by calling them "accidental, with accountability to the injuring player" and "accidental, with extenuating circumstances."

Now regardless of however the league chooses to term hits that have lead to brain injuries going forward, I'd still like to see Bettman, Colin Campbell or Mike Murphy pinned down to answering specific questions about the Chara / Pacioretty incident without a moving shell.

Thus far, the most insight gained into their thoughts remains that they believe it is the stanchion that is to blame for Pacioretty's injuries. All opinions to that end seem unable to remove the stanchion from the equation, an angle that I personally refuse to buy into, as there have been several injuries involving the turnbuckle, with not a single one being as severe as the one in question.

Murphy, presently in Florida, was asked today by Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika about how he reviewed the play and came to the conclusion he did.

After Tuesday night’s games ended, Murphy watched the Chara-Pacioretty hit again and again, probably 50 times. He said he watched it mostly by himself. Most important, he said he watched it mostly in real time, not in slow motion, not with freeze frames.

"I don’t think slow motion tells you what happens," Murphy said. "In slow motion, you start thinking like it’s happening slow, and it’s not happening slow. It’s happening fast. In analyzing the play, that was the one thing I tried to really go back to. What happened in fast speed?"

Pacioretty, listed at 6-foot-2, 196 pounds, chipped the puck past Chara and sprinted along the left-wing boards. Chara, at 6-9, 255, angled him off and gave him a last-second shove. Pacioretty struck the stanchion and dropped to the ice.

"Max Pacioretty is an extremely fast player, big player, and Chara’s a big player and has good speed," Murphy said. "This all unfolded at about 50 miles an hour. That’s how fast they move from the blue line, where Max chipped it, to the red line, where the stanchion is. I tried to get a feel for the speed and the decision-making of both players."

Murphy went home and brooded about it. He got up the next morning and watched more replays, using TV sports shows to find all the angles he could. He saw some in slow motion. He saw the still photo that seemed to damn Chara – showing Chara’s hands up high and Pacioretty’s head striking the stanchion, the padding bowing – but stressed it was a still photo and said: "We have to be careful not to let that influence us." He continued to rely on real-time replays.

The trouble with the real-time replays in this instance, is that few of them capture what actually happened like the still photo. In the article, Murphy brings up the point, and it's a valid one, that is was a very fast play.

But then again, aren't most plays in hockey fast?

Would a goal be reviewed in real-time?

Given that it is a fast play, and that Chara's elbow and arm rising for a perfectly timed split-second blow are practically a blur in real-time, doesn't that neccessitate closer slow motion viewing?

If a fast real-time replay does not show the point of impact clearly, and that photo evidence points to the cause of injury, why place added weight on what isn't conclusive?

Murphy says that he watched the replay in real-time fifty times. Is that supposed to be thorough?

I've watched it at least half as much, and honestly cannot see what the image captures very clearly. Freeze-framing does make the arm and elbow impact only slightly more evident. The reason it seems to happen so fast is that Pacioretty stops dead, whereas Chara's speed is not slowed.

Murphy also admits to having contacted the thirty other GM's in the league, which is in part troubling. Was he unsure of what he was seeing, or did he simply want to make a popular choice?

Taking a poll, in my view, gathers only a consensus, it doesn't exactly bring about the right decision from managers who may have given the play little more than a passing look or two.

What continues to eat at those such as myself who are not budging from why feel it was a suspendable hit to the head, is that the longer this goes on and the more it is explained it seems, the more the focal points in the NHL shell game seem to shift.

It's a hockey play. It's a fast play. It's the stanchion. If it happened on the other side of the rink...

The line trotted out most often in Chara's defense places most of the context of the incident on the opposite side of the ice, where there is no stanchion, only glass. It has been said ad nauseum that had the hit occurred there, there is no injury to speak of, or in Don Cherry's mind, "Pacioretty walks away with nothing more than a headache."

Curiously, under new regulations being considered for bench assessments of head hits, that headache would be criteria enough to remove Pacioretty from the game, but I digress.

The "opposite side of the rink" argument, is one I've countered in comments here last week, but at this point, I feel it deserves closer examination in theory.

To start off, all elements pertaining to the context of hit remain, apart from the stanchion.

Both players are moving fast, but Pacioretty still does not have the puck at the point of impact on the play.

Chara is still six feet, nine inches tall, still weighs 255 lbs. It's still one of the heaviest players in the NHL hitting Pacioretty without the puck.

The point of impact is still Chara's forearm and elbow to Pacioretty's head, still barely raised due to his height advantage of at least six inches.

There is now a one-hundred and eighty degree angle to the glass pane, flat glass, if you will, as opposed to the ninety degree turnbuckle. And as has been testified by numerous Canadiens players, the Bell Centre glass, approved by the NHL don't forget, is an immovable and rigid object, the worst boards in the league.

Chara is still angling Pacioretty out of the play, against this rigid pane, as he's not in possession of the puck.

A player not in possession of the puck is still not expecting to be cruched out of the play, no matter where he is placed on the ice. For all of Pacioretty's assumptions, he's still in a footrace.

Given all this, is Pacioretty better prepared to absorb that same hit?

The best answer isn't any more insightful than "maybe." I think he's thinking of where he wants to skate to.

Is Pacioretty, whose legs are still in continuous striding motion, better balanced to accept the impact of a 280 lbs player, as he's unsuspecting of a hit?

Not at all likely.

Is it still possible that Pacioretty loses his balance and falls after the impact against the glass, hitting his head on the ice?

Totally, and it is not possible in this instance to ever know whether the glass or the ice causes the injury. But on an illegal hit when he's not in possession of the puck, the fact is quite irrelevant.

Is the impact to Pacioretty's head any lesser, given Chara's weight and speed at the time?

Not by much, but I'll agree to dealing with variables at this point.

No with all this taken together, is it all that less unlikely that Pacioretty suffers some sort of injury similar to what occured at the stanchion.

The honest answer, given Chara's size, speed, impact and force, is that none of us truly know.

But it's fair to say we cannot say so definitely, and it's not as clear cut as saying he'd come out unscathed.

What it does go to show, is that you cannot make an argument, base a decision, or state a claim for that matter, based on a set of transposed hypothetical circumstances.

But it's funny, the NHL did.

In real-time!

Chara_medium

As an addendum to all of what has been discussed in the past week, we can all agree that the best news for now is that Pacioretty seems to be on the road to recovery and thinking of when he'll play hockey next. Since posting about this last week, EOTP's had all stripes of Bruins' fans (and yeah, we Habs fans come in all stripes too!) share in the discussion.

The common thread I've seen in conversations, and I won't say it's typical, is that it seems some want to move the elements of the incident away from the conversation, in order to display older incidents involving Hal Gill that are barely pertinent, or a viscious hit by Guillaume Latendresse on Rob Dimaio six years ago when rules for headshots were inexistant. Just to address the latter, today Latendresse would have the book thrown at him, even though "he's not that kind of player."

My point is just this, if anyone wants to dilute an argument that way, it's akin to admitting defeat to my mind. Stick to the facts of the incident we're discussing. As the basic point of this particular article deals with where the NHL and those who agree with their decision took the argument, consider that this is being discussed on those terms. To put it bluntly, dare I say, I've given respect to some Bruins' fans points of view here, and the NHL's, I think. I don't agree with it, but I've put it up for discussion. Please keep it civil.

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