No one believes Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara wanted to see Montreal ’s Max Pacioretty carried away on a stretcher.
Certainly not NHL operations VP Mike Murphy, who made the decision on behalf of the league not to suspend Chara received for hitting Pacioretty in a way that left the Canadiens forward with a severe concussion and broken vertebrae.
It wasn’t an easy call to make what with the hanging jury crowd beating a loud drum for serious punishment to be imposed on the Bruins captain. They saw Chara’s play as reckless and as it was dangerous and they have a point.
Then again, so do the ‘hockey people’, including a host of ex-players who have weighed in and argued the hit was simply a part of a physical game. Their take is that Chara’s five-minute interference penalty and game misconduct was a sufficient price for a generally routine play that had an unfortunate outcome. To go any further in terms of discipline would be to threaten the fundamental nature of the sport.
In other words, the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the Bruins captain intended to take the Canadiens forward out of the play, and given their personal history, probably with a little more vigor than usual. The games between these Original 6 and division rival teams have been particularly heated this season, and Pacioretty and Chara have gotten into a couple of altercations already.
In this case, it came late in the second period with the Canadiens leading 4-0 and on their way to avenging an 8-6, brawl-filled loss to Boston a few weeks earlier. Pacioretty had raised the Bruins ire earlier in the game when he took out Dennis Seidenberg with a clean hit, and now he had gained a step on the 6-foot-9 Chara. That prompted the Bruins defenseman to do what he would normally by trying to ride Pacioretty out along the boards.
Problem was when Chara made contact, he laterally raised his arm and drove Pacioretty face-first into the stanchion. It was a frightening site that got worse as Pacioretty lay prone and motionless on the ice for several minutes, and the kind of thing that creates bad optics for the league because it tends to get replayed on various news loops.
The reality though is that this type of play happens in almost every game, but was made worse because of where it happened on the ice. Whether or not Chara knew he and his opponent were approaching that post is debatable, but the Bruins defender had to realize he was in front of his own team’s bench and he still didn’t hold up.
That’s not to suggest Chara wanted to injure Pacioretty, but that really shouldn’t matter. He did. And the Canadiens will lose a key player as they try to catch the first-place Bruins while Boston remains at full strength.
Is that fair? Probably not but Murphy said Chara didn’t seem to be targeting the head of the opponent or leave his feet. And Chara’s reputation as a clean player who had no priors on his 13-season record factored in as well.
So a high-profile player escape without any consequence. And at the same time, a league desperate to protect its best players from unnecessary risk, missed an important chance to send a strong message about players taking more responsibility for their actions on the ice.