Chara hit not a matter of intentional violence
The hit from Zdeno Chara, captain of the Boston Bruins, on Max Pacioretty was easy to demonize.
Audiences all around the world watched the Montreal left winger crumble to the ice and remain immobilized until a stretcher arrived to assist the severely concussed and barely conscious player to the hospital.
The disputed hit has merit on each side of the debate, however, it has placed doubt in the minds of hockey fans, players and coaches as many observers question the intentions of the Bruins defenceman.
The vision of Pacioretty’s head crashing into the divider at the end of the visitors’ bench seemed to be a conscious headhunt by Chara for the Montreal rookie.
However, many have failed to realize that this hit was a result of Chara playing the game as the NHL rules and regulations permit, which condones using aggressive and sometimes excessive force to rub a player off the puck.
The incriminating aspect of the Chara’s hit was not the hit itself but the surroundings which it took place in the course of a regular play.
The difference between the two minute interference penalty Chara received and any other minor penalty is the fact that Pacioretty struck the divider and Chara happened to tower over him in size.
The NHL have been comfortable letting the blame of Pacioretty’s injury rest on
Chara’s shoulders in that it has taken the heat off acknowledging the real issue, which is that the protection and well-being of players has begun to slack. Headshots, checks from behind and injuries due to poor rink safety are occurring much more frequently with increasingly less punishment or consequence.
Without identifying these types of injuries as flaws in the regulations and rink setup of the game, but rather labelling players who fall victim to these unavoidable shortcomings such as Chara as monstrous, the likelihood of history repeating itself is without a shadow of a doubt.
Where the real controversy rests is the failed actions of the NHL in response to continuing to tolerate on-ice violence as permissible and allowing arenas to remain battlegrounds for serious injury.
This disturbing hit on Pacioretty shed light on an element of hockey that has been glossed over for years which is the escalating inability to separate serious injury from playing a physical game.
Although a main contribution to the overall intensity and excitement of hockey is the hard-hitting game play and team rivalries that are hashed out on the ice, it is not unrealistic to have this type of physicality while also having all players walking out of the dressing room at the end of each game. At what point is the line drawn?
It is a mutual responsibility for the NHL to provide a safe environment for the game to be played and for players to act accordingly.
Once the boundaries are overstepped and body checks such as the hit on Pacioretty no longer become an opportunity for league reform but rather an issue that is quickly capped to keep up the image of the NHL, then it really becomes uncertain whose interests are being given more priority: the players or the franchises.