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NHL has awkward decision to make after Zdeno Chara’s wicked hit on Max Pacioretty

Mar 9, 2011, 7:00 AM EDT

Zdeno Chara AP

By now you’ve seen and heard about the terrifying incident in last night’s Bruins-Canadiens game that saw Bruins captain Zdeno Chara wipe out Montreal’s Max Pacioretty with a hit along the boards that saw Pacioretty slam his head into the stanchion separating the the benches.

Pacioretty was removed from the ice on a stretcher after lying motionless on the ice for minutes and taken to the hospital for observation. According to the Canadiens, Pacioretty is conscious and moving his arms and legs. Chara was kicked out of the game and given a five-minute major for interference for the hit.

Chara spoke with the media afterward to explain his role in this ugly incident and CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty notes from Chara that he didn’t have any intention of hurting Pacioretty on the play.

“It wasn’t my intention to push him into the post. It’s very unfortunate. In that situation things are moving fast and I’m not planning to do that. It’s not my style to hurt somebody. I always play hard and I play physical. But I never try to hurt anybody. I’m hoping he’s okay.”

Just moments before that, however, in Chara’s efforts to try and explain how he saw the play, Canadiens blog All Habs has audio from Chara in which his explanation of how things went down doesn’t totally jive with how the play appeared on video. Keep in mind this quote comes just before he made the above statement.

“As the puck went by I was riding him out and it was very unfortunate that at the same time I pushed him a little bit he kind of leaned and jumped a little bit and hit the glass extension. So it’s very unfortunate…. I know we were somewhere close to our bench but obviously it wasn’t my intention to put him into the post.”

Chara is wrong about what he thinks Pacioretty did on the play. You can see the video in our post from last night.

In this explanation from Chara and in the repeated viewing of the video is where Mike Murphy’s job in deciding whether or not to hand out punishment for Chara becomes very tricky. Murphy gets the unfortunate job of doing this because Colin Campbell must recuse himself from matters involving the Bruins thanks to his son Greg playing for them.

What Murphy has to decide is if Chara had the intention of hurting Pacioretty. Given how Chara sounds in his explanation and his history of not consistently running afoul of the rules of the game, we’re sure that he’s sorry for how injured Pacioretty was on the play. After all, seeing a fellow player get so graphically injured is tough for anyone that makes a living playing hockey to watch because someday it could be them in that position.

What makes this awkward is that Chara and Pacioretty have a history dating back to their game on January 8 that saw Pacioretty score the game-winning goal in overtime and then get into a scuffle with Chara after that when Chara felt wronged by Pacioretty for a slight shove from behind while celebrating the goal. Chara went ballistic trying to get after Pacioretty before the scene calmed down.

Players remember these sorts of things, and when watching that play from last night’s game unfold again and again on video it sticks out in your mind. Call me a cynic if you wish but when Chara was racing after that puck with Pacioretty and riding him along the boards it’s tough for me to think that Chara didn’t know full well what he wanted to do there.

I’m not saying that Chara intended to have Pacioretty’s head slam into that stanchion in such a horrifying manner, but we’ve seen hits a thousand times where players get hit and rode along the rail like that and get crunched. Nine times out of ten it’s a body blow that knocks the wind out of the guy and they learn a very hard lesson. Last night was that one time where something goes wrong enough and the end result is a player going to the hospital.

Given the location of the play, the familiarity of the surroundings, and that nagging history it’s difficult for me to accept that Chara handled that play completely accidentally. He wanted Pacioretty to take a hard hit but not for a second do I believe he wanted him to end up unconscious on the ice with a horrifying blow to the head.

Does that make the situation better? No, it’s ugly all around no matter what kind of spin you want to put on it. The hit was away from the puck, it was late, and it was most certainly needless. Those kinds of questionable hits happen all over the ice in heated rivalry games like this. This time around, however, everything went wrong.

It’s wrong for Pacioretty because he had his health put in danger during the heat of battle. It’s wrong for Chara because he’s a mostly clean player that plays a very physical game and he’s a team captain that should know better. It’s wrong for the league now because they’re put in the unenviable position of trying to decide whether or not there was evil in the heart of Zdeno Chara.

The league is most certainly going to make someone mad as Bruins fans say it’s just an unlucky play while Habs fans want Chara’s head on a pike to serve as an example to the rest of the league. TSN’s Bob McKenzie says that the league’s best way of handling this is to play the role of King Solomon and split the difference somehow. With the league’s new dedication to protecting players hit in the head, their ruling on this one will be fascinating to see.

Chara’s at fault here for being reckless and whether he meant to get Pacioretty roughed up or not, he’s got a responsibility to adhere to as a player. You can play hard and physical without putting another player in danger like that and that’s something the league has to recognize here.

  1. 8man - Mar 9, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    The Habs really wanted that game last night and absolutely owned the Bruins. Boston had a chance to put some real distance in between them and Montreal for the division. Now it’s a lot closer and Chara will miss time. Going down to the last weekend.

  2. daveydawg - Mar 9, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    it wasn’t a hit from behind, there shouldn’t be any discipline. Is there a rule about no checking along benches? I’m not being sarcastic. It’s not chara’s fault that he’s capable of tossing the guy through the boards. If it was from behind that would have been different, but he just angled him off… Chara does not have a rep for this behavior. If Cooke gets a slap on the wrist for the Savard hit (and subsequent hits), chara should get ZERO punishment.

    • derpdederpdederp - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:55 AM

      exactly. the hits the nhl needs to get rid of are matt cooke style try-to-ruin-a-guys-life headshots, not actual hockey plays. this was an interference call at best and the nhl was right to leave charas punishment at the 5 and a game he received on the ice. the nhl would be setting an unwanted precedent if it begins to suspend players based on the resulting injury and not on the actual play

  3. joepags - Mar 9, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    unfortunate, but, there shouldnt be any punishment for this…. clearly he didnt intend on hurting him… in the heat of play, you cant expect players to take a mili-second and say ” o wait, bad place to check”

  4. smoothbravo - Mar 9, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    If the NHL wanted to punish players for hurting other players, they should have started with Matt Cooke last year. Both Cooke on Savard and Chara on Max were late check finishes where the contact being made would be legal if the puck was at the victim’s feet (now Cooke’s hit has been subsequently outlawed). I’m all for suspending that type of hit, but you can’t not suspend a guy for laying out Chara’s teammate and then suspend Chara for laying out someone else. That’s the definition of a double standard.

    For those arguing that the hits differ because one was called on the ice and one wasn’t, watch them again. Cooke’s hit occured even further after Savard dished the puck than last night’s incident. Besides, the whole purpose of having these decisions come a day later after a phone call is to look at the action rather than just the referees’ reaction to it. The fact that the officials at the Pittsburgh game blew the call on Cooke and the guys in Montreal dinged Chara on a reactionary basis should have no bearing in the suspension decision.

    I’d be fine with Chara getting a game or two off if the NHL hadn’t made a completely different precedent, but the league has made their decision and will lose more credibility for not being consistent than for not suspending Chara.

  5. scwigs - Mar 9, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    This type of thing happens periodically. And no one freaks out. Why now? Why, indeed, was Chara given the first interference major you and I have ever seen? Bc a Hab got hurt. In Montreal. From contact with a 6′ 8″ defenseman. With Colin Campbell in attendance (doesn’t matter if he doesn’t decide Bruins supplementary discipline, the refs know he’s there). Players rub out their checkees into the boards all the time. Players hit those stanchions a number of times during a season, and no one freaks bc they don’t get hurt. So, you’re telling me people are freaking bc of the fact that somebody got hurt. Hmm. So, illegal play, legit interference call, just not a dirty hit, despite the commentator above and all other breathless pundits rushing to condemn Chara. Yawn. Legit check (beside it being interference), good angle to the boards, not a lateral hit or from behind, refs on the ice told Recchi the hit wasn’t dirty and the major was bc it was a legit penalty upgraded bc an injury resulted. Should be no suspension. Hopefully this time the NHL follows its usual course and doesn’t listen to the pile-on punditry.

    • cshearing - Mar 9, 2011 at 10:03 AM

      So you are saying the only reason a penalty was called was that it was in MTL, and Campbell was there? You realize his son plays on the Bruins and not the Habs, right? I have no problem believing Campbell does not allow his son to influence his decisions in favor of the Bruins (he recuses himself anyhow), but to say that the Habs got the call because of him is some type of twisted logic I cannot follow.

      The puck was no where near Pacioretty, and Chara pretty much knew where he was. Maybe not malicious, but reckless at the very least. The penalty was the right call, and he should get 2 games. No, he should not get the season suspension Habs fans want, and he should not get off with nothing as Bruins fans seem to want. Comparing the hit to Cooke’s is also silly, if only because two wrongs do not make a right. I know B’s fans are still sore over that hit, and I agree with you; the NHL dropped the ball on that one. That should not influence this case, however.

      • derpdederpdederp - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:58 AM

        you cant suspend players based on injuries. had this hit occurred anywhere else on the ice it would have been a 2 minute minor and there would be no discussion about suspensions. unfortunately the hit occurred where it did, but you cant blame chara for that. are you suggesting chara back off and not make the play? hockey is too fast to make a decision like that

  6. botlecap - Mar 9, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    I’ll get chewed out for saying this but isn’t Pacioretty also responsible for knowing where he and Chara are on the ice? I’ve seen lots of players make similar plays with enough awareness NOT to try and squeeze through the boards and a checking defender right near the end of a bench. Instead, they take the hit or they try and get by the defender on the inside. Watching the video it seems like Pacioretty needs to be held responsible for choosing to put himself in a whole lot of danger. He had to know a hit was coming – he couldn’t have expected that any defender would just let him skate by and chase down that puck. Seems he thought he was fast enough, and he wasn’t. I think the interference call on the ice made perfect sense, but Chara doesn’t deserve a suspension for that.

  7. The Baseball Gods - Mar 9, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    I’m a neutral observer, I’m a Flyers fan and I dislike both teams just as much. From my standpoint the hit was dirty. I’m not saying that Chara intended to send Pacioretty off on a stretcher, because I don’t think any professional athlete wishes that upon any of their fellow athletes. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is how rare you see somebody check another player at that point of the ice. Players know that the stanchion is there and I think they play it safe most of the time so that nobody slams into the stanchion like that. There was bad blood already between the two and the hit was illegal because the player didn’t have possession of the puck. I don’t think there was intent to injure, but I do think there was intent to make Pacioretty feel some pretty harsh pain. I think Chara needs to at least get a few games of suspension.

    • derpdederpdederp - Mar 10, 2011 at 12:01 PM

      are you serious? have you never seen a player slam into the stanchion before? just because max got hurt slamming into the stanchion doesnt mean there needs to be a suspension. the 5 and a game chara received was punishment enough. once the nhl starts suspending players for hockey plays that result in an injury they would be setting an unwanted precedent, that being that all hits and hockey plays are subject to punishment if there is a resulting injury. i for one do not want to see that happen

    • derpdederpdederp - Mar 13, 2011 at 12:42 PM

      check out the clips he shows. youre “players rarely check near the turnbuckle” argument really holds water after that, eh? sounds like youre one of those hockey “fans” that started watching after the lockout and has unfortunately never seen real hockey been played

  8. bigbear42 - Mar 9, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    It wasnt dirty, but it sure was late. The puck was long gone by the time the hit occurred. I dont think they will suspend him. I wouldnt be surprised if he but is fined.

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