They Never Get Easier
Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara (33) hits Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty (67) into the boards during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal, March 8, 2011. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)
Colin Campbell may be just as happy he has to sit this one out.
And no matter what Mike Murphy decides, at least it will demonstrate that whoever makes disciplinary decisions in the NHL, it's always going to leave some unhappy and others shaking their heads at what they perceive to be the NHL's wonky justice system.
Campbell, of course, can't be the one to rule on Tuesday night's incident in Montreal involving Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara because his son, Gregory, plays for the Bruins, and so Campbell will, as always, recuse himself from the matter.
It will thus fall to Murphy, Campbell's top assistant, and he'll hold a hearing with Chara at noon today. While some will no doubt see this as an open-and-shut case of Chara committing overt assault on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, who was hospitalized as a result, it's a wee bit more complicated than that.
Really, the guilty party may be the rink as much as the 6-foot-9 Chara.
Here's what happened with 16 seconds left in the second period and the Canadiens leading the Bruins 4-0. Chara and Pacioretty both went hard after a loose puck just inside the right point in the Montreal end, and the Montreal player managed to chip the puck out towards centre ice.
The momentum of the players carried them towards the Boston bench, and towards the always-dangerous partition that separates the benches in the Montreal area. Chara clearly tried to squeeze Pacioretty into the boards even though the Habs forward didn't have the puck, but there was no elbow or contact to the head, and seemingly no malicious intent.
Maybe Chara should have known the partition was in play. But there certainly did not appear to be any effort by the massive Boston blueliner to injure Pacioretty, but rather just eliminate him from the play to avoid giving him access to the loose puck. Pacioretty, however, caught the partition with his head and neck area, and was twisted in ugly fashion to the ice, where he lay until doctors and medical staff arrived on the scene. Minutes later, he was taken off on a stretcher, with his head/neck stabilized.
Chara received an interference major and game misconduct, and to be sure, he definitely interfered with Pacioretty. But at the same time, if the collision had happened on the side of the rink without the benches, it would have just been a garden variety rub-out into the glass, and maybe even an infraction the officials ignore.
For years, many have worried about the way in which the partition between benches in NHL rinks and in other leagues is positioned and padded. At a time when the league and players union are considering all safety related issues coincidentally Campbell and the NHL operations staff met in New York for the first time Tuesday afternoon with newly hired NHLPA official Mathieu Schneider - this could certainly be added to the list. NHL general managers will meet Monday in Florida, and you can bet this incident will be added to a long agenda.
Montreal fans will be screaming for Chara's scalp on this one, and the messy, violent games between the two clubs this season have heated up the rivalry between the two clubs. The Bruins, who have seen their players, notably Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard, severely injured by illegal or quasi-legal hits in recent seasons, will argue that Chara cannot be held accountable for which part of the rink a collision takes part in.
This incident will also involve another ongoing debate in NHL circles relating to the head shot problem, and that's whether a player delivering a hit carries all the responsibility for the effect of a hit, or whether the player absorbing the hit has to carry some responsibiity if he is injured for putting himself in a vulnerable position.
So is Chara to blame for running Pacioretty into the partition? There is no specific penalty for that offence, and the hit was not from behind. Then again, it's roughly akin to running an opponent into a goalpost and injuring him, which would definitely be suspendable.
Or is it up the Montreal player to be more aware? Should Pacioretty have pulled up rather than put himself at risk? There's also the suggestion of some bad blood between the two players relating to an incident at the end of a Jan. 8 game.
All is all, this is a tricky, multi-layered problem for the NHL operations department, specifically Murphy, and his decision will, you can bet, leave either the Habs or Bruins enraged.
It looked to these eyes like a fairly basic hockey play gone terribly wrong, mostly because it happened at the worst possible place on the rink possible.
The good news is that early reports suggested Pacioretty will be okay. But if Chara doesn't receive a significant suspension - and it seems unlikely he would get anything more than a couple of games, if anything at all - the health of the Montreal player won't be enough to stop Habs fans from howling.