March 10, 2011
The photo didn't help Zdeno Chara(notes): The still-frame moment that shows his glove on Max Pacioretty's(notes) face as the Montreal Canadiens forward's head smashes into the turnbuckle, moments before he fell to the ice.
The medical report didn't help Zdeno Chara: Fractured vertebrae and a severe concussion for Pacioretty; as Puck That Hurts wrote in a must-read column, the potential for his return to hockey is unknown.
The NHL didn't help Zdeno Chara: The decision not to suspend or fine the Boston Bruins captain, as Mike Murphy(notes) ridiculously called a situation that earned Chara a major penalty and game misconduct a "hockey play that resulted in an injury."
And, Wednesday night, Pacioretty certainly didn't help Zdeno Chara, as his incendiary interview with Bob McKenzie of TSN in which he outright accused him of intent to injure:
"I heard (Chara) said he didn't mean to do it. I felt he did mean to do it. I would feel better if he said he made a mistake and that he was sorry for doing that, I could forgive that, but I guess he's talking about how I jumped up or something."
"I believe he was trying to guide my head into the turnbuckle. We all know where the turnbuckle is. It wasn't a head shot like a lot of head shots we see but I do feel he targeted my head into the turnbuckle."
The vibe on Thursday morning is different than it was on Tuesday night, and than it was before the NHL's decision not to suspend. The benefit of the doubt for an upstanding citizen in the NHL has seemingly morphed into doubts about Chara's intent through the benefit of hindsight.
And now the police may be getting in on the act, via the Montreal Gazette:
The DCPP was reluctant to comment on the incident Wednesday following the National Hockey League's decision not to suspend Chara, but issued a release early Thursday confirming that it had advised the ministry of Public Security that it was recommending an investigation.
It didn't take long for officials to respond. Montreal police issued a brief statement late in the morning confirming they had been asked by the ministry to launch the investigation. The police would not make any further comment.
Oh joy: Getting the police involved in a sport where there's an assault every night.
But that's just another example of the wave of criticism Chara's facing on Day 2 of the aftermath.
"If you polled 700 NHL players, 680 would say he knows exactly what he's doing and knows the turnbuckle is there."
"I thought it was a dirty play. I thought he knew exactly what he was doing."
Via Big Bad Bruins Blog, former Bruin Steve Montador(notes) spoke about the Chara hit on WGR 550 in Buffalo, and didn't necessarily buy that Chara didn't know where he was on the ice when administering the hit:
"It's easy for me from this side to speculate, but that part of the rink in Montreal, where the benches are, I'd like to think that everybody, unless it's their first game there on the first shift — they might not be 100 percent aware of it — but having played against Montreal a bunch with Boston and with Buffalo … you're pretty familiar with the ice," he said.
"I got a sense that Zee meant to hit him in the way that he did, but I don't think in any way that he wanted the outcome to be the way that it did. The puck had already been chipped past Zee. Maybe just the emotion of that game and from games previous [led to it].
"I think Zee knew what he was doing there, but like I said, in no way would I think that he'd want to hurt him like that."
"When it comes to the pole and the door, it's like hitting a guy from behind. Since Day 1, you're taught not to do that. When you see a door open in an NHL game, you'll hear 15 guys yelling, 'Door! Door! Door!, no matter who the guy nearing it plays for.
"When you're going by the door, the pole there, you let up. When you get around that area, it's (messed) up. It's a different beast."
Mark Spector of Sportsnet wrote about the hazards of that part of the rink … but felt it was Pacioretty that shared the personal responsibility for being there:
In Pacioretty's case, the smaller Canadiens forward had a running grudge going with Chara. He knew it was there, after opening the feud with an ill-advised shove after his overtime winner by Montreal on Jan. 8. Pacioretty never backed down from Chara, yapping and sparring with the giant Bruins d-man over the course of the next two games.
Now Pacioretty is coming down the wing. The score is 4-0 Montreal, with seconds left in Period 2. He knows Chara wants to crank him. He can see the partition coming.
Pacioretty had every reason to believe he was entering a very dangerous spot, yet he went in there like a defenceman turning his back to the ice, counting on the rulebook to protect him.
Finally, on the subject of responsibility, Bruce Arthur of the National Post targets the NHL:
Of course, sometimes, the league also suspends Sean Avery(notes) because he says something lewd. Whatever works on the day. Murphy's boss, Colin Campbell — who recuses himself from Bruins cases, since his son Gregory plays for Boston — explained a two-game suspension to Alexander Ovechkin last year by saying, "If you cause a player to be injured, then you have to be responsible for the play that you're involved in, if there's any carelessness or recklessness in it.
At best this hit was careless and reckless — and an illegal play, ergo the penalty — but this time it is just a hockey play. You're responsible for your stick in this league, but not your body.
The NHL was faced with another chance to decide what it wants to be, and it made that choice. As Montreal coach Jacques Martin told reporters in Brossard, Que., Wednesday, "How angry am I with Chara? It's more, where are the limits to the physicality of our game? I don't think it's just one incident."
Nor was Chara's hit the first time a player's head was rammed into the turnbuckle. Ask Ryan Smyth about it.
Again: It was a reckless -- and deemed by the officials to be illegal -- play in a part of the rink that offers some unique hazards. For that, and for taking out a significant player for a division rival, Chara deserved a suspension, but nothing mammoth.
Pacioretty earned his right to say whatever he damn well wants, but I just don't see the nefarious intent on the hit that he does. (I also don't think every freeze-frame photo tells the whole story.) And it almost seems like that part of his interview with McKenzie was prompted by Chara's asinine comment that Pacioretty "jumped" into the stanchion. Again, he's got every right to be pissed off.
The hit occurred on the seventh anniversary of Todd Bertuzzi's(notes) assault on Steve Moore. Another broken neck. Another polarizing controversy. And another playoff race for the NHL that suddenly seems immaterial as the debates rage.
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