Thursday, March 10, 2011

Move along people, nothing to see here, nothing to see...

After further review, the NHL has decided that Zdeno Chara's hit while uncomfortable to watch, in the end was simply a hockey play, one which as things turned out have left Max Pacioretty in a Montreal hospital with a broken vertebra and concussion.

No further punishment will follow from the now much reviewed play, which saw Pacioretty smash into a board side stanchion, leaving many in the crowd and viewing at home fearful that perhaps they were about to bear witness to a death from the play on the ice.

At the time of the on ice incident, Chara received a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct for the hit, further disciplinary investigation resulted in the announcement that no other action from the league was required, no further penalty would be assessed.

 That was the opinion of incident reviewer and  fill in adjudicator Mike Murphy, the league's senior vice-president of hockey operations who apparently is in charge of incidents that feature players from the Boston Bruins.

It would appear that Mr. Murphy grabs the gavel from Colin Campbell, who normally handles such discipline matters, but it would seem recuses himself when games featuring the team that his son Gregory plays for are the subject of discussion.

With the B's up on the discipline roll call list on Wednesday, Mr. Murphy ruled that after a thorough review  that it was a "hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player coliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface"

And that's that, right?  Case closed, an unfortunate incident that left yet another hockey player rendered unconscious, destined for an ambulance and what appears to be a lengthy period of convalescence. Business as usual in the NHL of today it seems.

However, much as Gary Bettman and the Grand Council of NHL owners may wish (perhaps with empty seats at the table where Montreal and Pittsburgh might sit) the backlash on this particular incident isn't going to fade from view quite as fast at they might have preferred.

In the wake of the incident, with the visual of Mr. Pacioretty's head smashing into a post on the side of the boards still fresh in the memory banks, the call for some kind of accountability for on ice action continues to echo.

And while no one can argue the point that for the most part Zdeno Chara is not a dirty player, the lack of follow up punishment for his involvement in Tuesday night's incident has left many beyond frustrated at the place where the NHL is apparently comfortable at, compared to the fans who view their product.

Some commentators have echoed the Murphy ruling that it was just a hockey play, part of the game, but that's an argument that is seemingly leaving many wondering if that's true, then is this the game that they remember, that they once played and enjoyed.

More and more this season, with incident after incident, hockey seems to be moving beyond the cartoonish movie violence of the Slapshot days and trending more ominously to that of the worst of Rollerball, where seemingly no uncomfortable incident is enough to warrant a call to stop and think of where the game is going.

The NHL's interpretation that having a player steered, even if accidentally (though only Mr. Chara knows for sure if he knew where he was on the ice at the moment) into a post, resulting in potentially life threatening injuries is just part of the game, should leave many fans fearful for what the game is becoming.

Hockey of course has always been one of the more dangerous of professional sports. A game that features an increasingly larger body mass, faster speeds, non forgiving boards and danger zones on the surface of play  that continue to provide for the potential for injury, in some cases career ending ones.

Add on a lack of respect for each other that seems to be an increasing component of play this year and the need for disciplinary actions and some form of accountability for on ice behaviour seems to be  required.

As we mentioned, Mr. Chara is not considered a dirty player, he is rarely found in the midst of a brawl, has no particular record of ugly behaviour, yet he has now been a participant in a play that will resonate around the league.

If nothing else in those nano seconds of play, he should have been aware of where he was on the ice, the particular dangers of where he was about administer his hit and either let up or waited a step or two before he made the play he did.

It's up to the players on the ice to be aware of these things, to provide for the respect of their opponent and not offer up any form of reckless behaviour that brought us to this point.  Mr. Chara is not the first person to be involved in horrific incidents, and by the NHL's take on things, we imagine now he won't be the last.

Some incidents on the ice, a puck to a face, an injury from legal check will happen, beyond the control of the league.  Others however, the mayhem of the brawling, the reckless behaviour, the behaviour of the repeat offenders who never seem to learn, those are all issues of concern that are well within the domain of league management.

The NHL had a chance to try and change the culture of the game yesterday, not so much by making Chara an example of, but by addressing the need to reinforce to their players that respect for those on the ice should be the cornerstone policy of the league today.

They failed at that on Wednesday, leaving not only a cadre of sports writers to continue to make that call, but providing for the fans of the game to question whether they recognize the sport anymore.

Globe and Mail-- Another opportunity for the NHL to do the right thing
Globe and Mail-- Chara responsible for reading situation
Globe and Mail-- Chara's penalty should be automatic
National Post-The 'hockey play' defence is getting old
National Post-- Chara's hit on Pacioretty casts long shadow
National Post-- The NHL prepares for another round of mind-reading
Vancouver Sun-- That's Hockey?!
Toronto Star-- Outrage grows after NHL sees no evil in Chara's violent hit
Toronto Star-- As Bad as it gets
Sun Media-- Chara ruling absurd
Sun Media-- Price unforgiving after Chara's vicious hit
Montreal Gazette-- How did Chara escape ban?
Montreal Gazette-- League's inaction after vicious hit on Pacioretty leaves teammates stunned
Montreal Gazette-- Pacioretty a few millimetres from potential paralysis
Montreal Gazette-- Every hockey mom's worst nightmare
Montreal Gazette-- NHL needs to show it has a spine
Montreal Gazette-- Shot heard around hockey world

Beyond the concern of the fan base and the correspondents, the NHL now may face further scrutiny from both the judicial system and the political class.

Now putting aside the obvious, that being that politicians are frequently quick to latch onto cultural issues to better further their own ambitions and self perceived importance. The bottom line for the NHL still, is that having your sport examined in both the judicial and political arena is never a particularly winning moment.

The NHL seemingly remains deaf and blind to the concerns issued thus far, but there is apparently one quarter yet to be heard from, those that provide the league with it's blood stream, the league's advertisers.

Reports out of Montreal have it that Air Canada, is perhaps of a mindset to review its participation with the league in a sponsorship role.  A move that would hurt the NHL where it sadly is apparently most vulnerable, in its pocketbook, a place that seemingly trumps its conscience.

The league may not hear the fans, may disregard the courts and the politicians, but advertisers, ah yes, Mr. Bettman, can you hear them now?

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