Thursday, March 10, 2011

NHL Made Right Call On Chara

The NHL absolutely made the right call by not suspending or fining Zdeno Chara for his hit on Max Pacioretty. It's unfortunate that Pacioretty was seriously injured, but there was nothing wrong with the hit itself. As long as you have hitting in hockey, actual physical contact, there are going to be injuries, some of them serious. Especially when someone the size of Chara is involved.
But, as expected, the media reaction (which dictates public reaction more than people would like to admit) has gotten so out of control that politicians are weighing in with their manufactured, convenient displeasure and a major NHL sponsor, Air Canada, is threatening to take its dollars away. Don't for a second think the suits at Air Canada are concerned about the health of millionaire athletes. They are concerned about public perception. Right now, people from all walks of life are positively outraged over a sport that has always been violent and are like a bunch of braying sheep being led over a cliff of hysterical public opinion. Ah, but there's nothing like a self-righteous moral crusade once in a while.
As people continually tune out real life issues and politics, a trend that has been increasing decade after decade, they occupy all their free time with entertainment, of which the NHL undboubtedly is, nothing more. That's where people make the mistake of pretending like the injustice or violence that takes place on the ice is the same as if it took place on their streets or in their neighbourhood. When you take the game that seriously, you could realistically forget that an athlete has already consented to a reasonable level of violence when he agrees to take part in the sport and accept compensation for it. People who get punched in the head on the street are not expected to accept a "reasonable level of violence", but NHL players are. That's why there are virtually no legal prosecutions taken against players except in extreme cases where the act is so violent that it surpasses reasonable limits, such as the Todd Bertuzzi case.
The Chara hit is nowhere near this level, despite the severity of the injury. People have the convenience of watching the video in slow motion and making judgments about intent (which is ridiculous when you stop to think about it for a moment), but hockey is a fast game and Chara made a split second decision to make a hit. Yes, it was obstruction, but the Pacioretty injury could have happened just the same as if he had the puck or not. Should Chara be punished just because he's bigger and stronger than Pacioretty? If you want to spread blame, why not do something about the stanchions that pose a hazard to players. Either remove it and replace the glass there with netting, inset it a foot so it's out of the way or pad it more so the impact is less.
The fact that the police are investigating this is undoubtedly due to the public outcry. I'm quite confident that they will quickly find there is no basis to prosecute. In fact, it's a waste of their time and public resources.
The only way to eliminate head injuries is to eliminate hitting. Or you ban players the size of Chara. Or you simply throw in the towel  and realize that hockey is too dangerous and ban the whole sport.  In its stead, we could have a playoffs that consist entirely of the video game NHL11, played by fat slobs who's only worry of injury would come from sore thumbs and tired eyes. Of course, they would have to be well compensated (natch) but think of the trauma and horror we will have saved the public from.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, the only media barking like mad dogs are out of Montreal. Almost every other commentator I've heard, from Ottawa and Toronto, pretty much agree with the NHL.

But the whining of a bitchy little Habs fan makes a lot of noise. Rocket Richard and all that crap (who incidentally owns the NHL record for most goals scored during a World War).

dzuunmod said...

You'd do well to take a look at Roy MacGregor and Eric Duhatschek in yesterday's Globe.

Peter Raaymakers said...

Agreed, I don't think there was a need for a suspension, so in that sense I agree with the NHL.

On the other hand, they've handled this like a group of bungling buffoons (not that I'd expect anything less from the NHL). I actually think a one- or two-game suspension might have been useful, if only yo keep some of the dogs out there at bay. It would have been solely for the optics of it, and they could have said there was no demonstrable intent but players still have to be responsible for one another's safety, and made a statement in that regard.

If they didn't want to do that, they should have said the penalty assessed--five and a game--was the right call, and was sufficient punishment for the play.

As it was, they not only let him off, they also almost implied that the referee of the game made a mistake in kicking Chara out. And that's just bad PR.

ibanez_guy said...

Totally 100% agree with everything here. The Puck Daddy boards are alive with crazy people today though.

I don't understand why they make the one portion of glass that connects with the glass behind the players bench perpendicular. Make it a 45 degree angle, so that if players do get pushed into it, they don't stop at full speed like Patches did (that's why his lower half kept moving while his upper half didn't). Instead, players would slide off and back towards the ice. They would still get hurt, but I can't imagine it would be as bad as being thrown into (essentially) a wall while going X MPH or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Your position is crazy and pig headed.

Anonymous said...

My comment is too long, so it's a two parter.

It's time for Pacioretty to stop hugging his tree, take off his skirt, and man up. If he's got a problem with Chara, he should settle it the old fashion way, and drop the gloves ...

Just kidding.

Nice post on your part, Mr. Milks. I agree with the part where you say that the media has a huge influence over public reaction, although I think that they got it right this time.

I also think that you're on to something with that comment that people continually tune out real life issues and politics, and instead focus on sports and entertainment.

The public reaction to this incident has been pretty impressive, it makes you wonder how many solutions to real problems could be mobilized if people showed just as much outrage. Healthcare? Government corruption? I'm just as guilty as everyone else in that regard.

Nevertheless, if the public outcry does lead to change, maybe people will become more confident that they can affect change in more important areas of life. That can only be a good thing in my books.

I also agree with you that the police investigation is a waste of time. That case has no chance. But on the flip side, the fact that they are investigating might give players pause to think that future incidences may attract the interest of law enforcement. That alone may get the ball rolling on behavioural change. I bet Chara never makes another hit like that. Not worth the aggravation.

All that said, I disagree with you on the title of your post. I think the NHL made the wrong call on Chara. He should have been suspended, if even for one or two games.

I think the officials made the right call on the ice. But, once again the NHL dropped the ball off the ice.

What's the goal of the department that handles supplementary discipline in the NHL? It just seems like they have no vision. The best comment I've heard is that supplementary discipline is the NHL's drinking game.

I have visions of Campbell and Murphy sitting in a room with a case of beer. At the end of the night, the suspension equals the number of bottles left.

It'd be nice if they took their cues from the NBA and the NFL in this department. The on-ice officials interpret the rule book. But, the supplementary discipline guys have an opportunity to shape the culture of the game. They get to really influence behaviour, with the hammer that is a suspension.

Anonymous said...

Here's part two.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think that it's that complicated. If a player has an opportunity to make the play that Chara made, do you want him to make it. I say no.

I think that every person is responsible for his or her actions. I think that every player should be conscious of his or her surroundings on the ice. A player delivering the hit should be aware that the stanchion was there.

One comment that I heard on the radio, was that if someone has an accident, you don't throw them in jail because you have to prove intent.

The problem with that analogy is that we are talking about criminal law. As a society, we don't like to throw people in jail unless we can prove that a bunch of conditions have been met. The burden of proof is very high, as it should be.

But, even in law, there are different "burdens of proof". In criminal law the burden is very high, but in civil law, it's not quite as high.

That's why in the O.J. Simpson case, he was found not guilty in the criminal court, but he lost his case in civil court, where he was told to pay his victims a lot of cash.

Now, considering all that, where should the "NHL court" rank vis-a-vis the criminal and civil courts. I think most people would say that in the "NHL court" the burden of proof doesn't need to be that high.

I think that the NHL should use suspensions to shape the behaviours within the game. They spend a lot of time trying to get the wording right on new rules. That's not nearly as important as the suspension itself.

There's no specific rule that says that Chara can't do what he did. But, you throw a suspension at him, and players will get the message. In fact, I think that 95% of the players already get the message.

Most players don't make dangerous hits. They're rare. When they happen, punish them, and they'll be even more rare.

You'll never get the language right on a rule. I think most players know not to destroy a guy when he's vulnerable. When it does happen, punish it.

As for the fear mongering that you'll take hitting out of the game, I'm not buying it.

Players in any competitive sport are always looking for an edge. You come out with a milkshake that claims that it makes you recover 1% faster, and some guys will start drinking it.

I think a crackdown on dangerous hits may initially make some players tentative, buy they'll adjust. They'll still hit hard because it gives them a competitive advantage to win the game

There was a great comment by Teddy Bruschi (New England Patriots Pro-Bowler) a few months ago on ESPN. Someone asked him about the NFL trying to get the head hits out of the game. He said players will say that they can't change because the game is too fast. He also said that we shouldn't believe them.

He went on to say that they are world-class athletes, and they can adjust. He explained how he could hit a player precisely where he was targeting. It was pretty impressive.

I think the NHL guys will eventually do the same.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't a "hockey play" whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. It's the same as hitting someone from behind into the boards and breaking his neck. You're not supposed to do it. If you do, you should be held accountable. He knew the stanchion wwas there: he's been playing hockey for thirty years of his life. His intent was to injure the guy. Please stop with all that thug rhetoric and snap out it, you guys sound like a bunch of dinosaurs. And we all know what happened to them.


Jeremy Milks said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. A lot of interesting stuff there, especially that two-parter. I think everyone has some good points, even that dude who called me pig-headed! Obviously, some sort of compromise on the issue is needed. Hopefully, it's in the best interests of the game.

boobs said...

a response to one thing said in part 2 up there:

"Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think that it's that complicated. If a player has an opportunity to make the play that Chara made, do you want him to make it. I say no."

See, it IS more complicated. Because I say yes. There is no way in the world that Chara could have known he would break the guy's neck. As a defenceman, the one thing he should have been thinking is: "There is a puck over there, there is an attacker trying to get that puck. I need to stop that."

Now sure, he went overboard and got a interference call that I think was correct. But the minute we start putting other things into defencemen's minds, like: "There is a puck over there, there is a attacker trying to get that puck... but wait, let me survey my surroundings to make sure there are no obstacles in the way that might create a unfavorable situation for someone."

If he has to start thinking like that, then, in my opinion, we have killed the game a little bit. And to some people it might seem like an acceptable change, but I don't think so. Because if we change that, what else will asked to be changed because of some random unfortunate event?

Bottom line, hockey is fast, rough, and violent and it's why we like it. These things happens, but 99% of the time no one gives a shit. And I think that's the way it should be for the sake of the game. If they start killing the game because of something that is rarely going to happen, then it is no longer hockey. And i'm not some violence nut. I'm fully aware that it is the fast, rough nature of the game that leads to, and in many cases forces all of the skill-based players to ramp it up, and that's why it is a good thing for the sport.

And of course, it's been said a million times before but I say it again: if this play happens virtually anywhere else on the ice, we aren't talking about it right now. Get rid of the stupid stanchion in the middle, and focus on the real problem.

And one more thing, I don't think they should have given him a suspension because it would have indicated that they thought he intended to injure him, and I don't think they can prove that, and they know that. And anyone who thinks Chara intended on injuring him (like the other Anon. up there OMGZ ITS LIKE, SO OBVIOUS LOL), is not looking at things objectively. Whether he meant to or not, there is nothing to show that he did.

I don't think he did.