The NHL needs to look beyond intent, and remain consistent

The NHL has decided not to suspend the Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara for his interference call on the Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty, that could potentially end the Habs forward's brief NHL career. Pacioretty's fractured vertebrae will certainly take time and near perfect recovery. The concussion also suffered could have long-term effects, as we have seen in several past and present NHL players. If Pacioretty is able to recover, the question will be whether he can play at the same promising level as before.

In the meantime the Bruins captain, who stated post-game that he never deliberately tries to hurt anyone, can suit up for his next game. Disgusting isn't it? At a time when the NHL has been criticized by many, including it's former stars as a garage league, they hit an all-time low in terms of it's disciplinary system.

We've seen the video replay and the still photos that clearly show Chara's position over Pacioretty Tuesday night. Was there intent to injure on Chara's part?Several fans, and not just Habs fans but Bruins and Leafs fans feel it was.

In NHL Vice President of hockey operations Mike Murphy's opinion though, there wasn't.

"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," continued Murphy. "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."

 

 

Murphy states that the injury was a result of the padding on the glass and the impact on the ice. Several journalists such as Adrian Dater, Steve Simmons and Bob McKenzie seem to agree. They just seem to ignore how Pacioretty got into that situation in the first place.

One journalist who truly seems to get the situation is the Globe and Mail's Bruce Arthur, who on Twitter this afternoon said, "Amazing how the NHL can correctly judge a player's intent. Mind-readers, obviously. Maybe they should read what's left of Pacioretty's mind."

Murphy's also notes that Chara has not been involved in a discipline incident in the past also appears false, when you read this league statement. If Murphy's goes by his statement, does this also mean that Tuesday's incident will not go against Chara in any future scenarios?

The real crime for Chara was recklessness, and that has been a bit of an out for several players in the past in rather questionable situations. Personally I do not see Zdeno Chara as a dirty player. He's a big, strong physical player and when he wants to throw his weight around, you see the results. But he is also a professional, and plays at the All-Star level in his league, meaning that he is well aware of his surroundings and where he is on the ice.

There is no question that Chara knew exactly where he and his opponent were, with respect to the players benches. This is a fast game, and had Chara been wise to release Pacioretty sooner then perhaps the impact would not have had as devastating a result.

In the real world, we hear of stories where people are charged with reckless endangerment, reckless driving causing death, or involuntary manslaughter. Perhaps this is an extreme comparison, when paralleled to a hockey game, but the ideal of recognizing non-intent and still punishing the offender is the direction I'm after.

The NHL needs to consider not just whether or not a player deliberatey tried to injure an opponent, rather if the offending player could have avoided that situation.

But wait, they have done that before. In 2006, the Pittsburgh Penguins Brooks Orpik was suspended three games for behind the back hit on Erik Cole. In this situation, the NHL's chief disciplinarian, Colin Campbell, made this statement.

"While it is apparent that there was no deliberate intent to injure on this play, Mr. Orpik's careless hit on his opponent resulted in a serious injury.

"Even if a player leaves himself vulnerable, the checking player does bear some responsibility in avoiding a hit on a defenseless player."

In this situation, Campbell acknowledges that carelessness resulted in the injury, hence a fine.

He later used a similar argument when Tom Kostopoulos, then of the Canadiens, was suspended after a boarding call on the Toronto Maple Leafs Mike van Ryn in 2008.

"While it is my determination that Kostopoulos did not deliver a check to an unsuspecting opponent, his actions caused injuries."

The above examples, and the most recent from Tuesday, clearly show the inconsistencies in the NHL's disciplinary system. The one-man decision-making system, currently used by the NHL, just doesn't work. Ideally a committee system, preferably involving a rep from the NHLPA , would be a better system, but part of that problem stems from the fact that action needs to be taken before the team the player is on participates in their next game.

While they have made attempts to curb head shots, the NHL still have to set in stone a layout of suspensions/fines based on the infraction and the severity of it and regardless of who the player is.

When the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin received a fine for slew foot incident, many argued that he was just a reckless player and needs to be more careful in his actions. They could be right, but why does another player, and also a first-time offender, receive a two-game suspension?

With Chara considered a premier star in the league, the "protect the stars" shadow is again cast on the NHL and the fans are becoming infuriated with that. Having already suffered a season lost to a lockout, and severe head injuries on the rise, this issue could become a major negotiation issue with the latest CBA set to expire in 2012.

In the meantime, the NHL Board of Governors convenes next week. The chances that further discussion into disciplinary action is unlikely, but perhaps a few wise GMs will speak up before things truly get out of hand, or someone gets killed.

 

Related: Bruce Arthur; The 'hockey play defence is getting old..."

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