by PuckStopsHere on 03/11/11 at 03:42 AM ET
Late in the second period of Tuesday night’s Boston at Montreal game (which Montreal won 4-1), Zdeno Chara caught Max Pacioretty with a serious hit. Pacioretty had gotten rid of the puck about a second before the hit. Chara’s hit knocked Pacioretty into the glass divider at the end of the visitor’s bench. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion. This is a situation where the result is quite serious. Chara was not suspended.
The NHL has a problem with concussions. Far too many players are suffering them and they are ending careers and affecting player’s quality of life after retirement. Sidney Crosby was well on his way to a Hart Trophy season before he suffered a concussion. He hasn’t played in over months and it is unclear if he will be back this season. This is affecting the NHL at the box office as well as on an individual player level.
With that said, Zdeno Chara’s hit was basically a hockey play. It was an interference penalty as Pacioretty had got rid of the puck far enough in advance of the hit. There are hundreds of interference penalties in a hockey season. They are two minute penalties. Hits that are equivalent to Chara’s get two minute penalties all the time. The differences were that Pacioretty hit a glass divider and the Chara towers over him in size. That made this hit one that resulted in a very serious injury.
It is defensible that Chara did not get a suspension. He was given a five minute penalty and a game misconduct, largely due to the seriousness of the injury. It is a problem with the NHL’s suspension policy that the result is often punished and not the deed. That isn’t a good preventative when two essentially identical hits occur and one results in a two minute penalty, while the other results in a suspension, due to the health of the player who took the hit.
The other problem with the NHL’s suspension policy is that star players do not get as harsh suspensions as lesser players. Zdeno Chara is one of the bigger stars in the NHL and it is no surprise that he would get off light. It is quite likely that a lesser player would have been suspended a few games.
This doesn’t address the suspension problem. Hockey is a fast game and suspensions are occurring more and more frequently. There is a more systemic problem when a hit that is not too uncommon can turn into a serious suspension. This isn’t a problem that more “respect” among players can solve. In this particular case, better padding at the point where the glass partition starts at the end of the benches could prevent similar injuries.
Bowing to political pressure, the Montreal police are investigating this situation to see if they should press charges. That is overstepping their bounds. This was a play which is usually worth two minutes in penalties. As a result of a serious injury that made the play look more heinous than it actually was, some people want to see a serious punishment. The police getting involved in NHL punishment decisions is usually a mistake. It is done for reasons that are never objective or consistent. Unfortunately Max Pacioretty’s injury is a risk of the game. The focus should be on systematically reducing these risks. Concussions are too common in today’s game. In this case the biggest contributing factor to Pacioretty’s injury is the glass partition where the bench ends. That hazard needs to be better padded or otherwise protected from players.
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