Pierre Gauthier didn't make a big splash at the NHL trade deadline, and many Canadiens fans felt that was okay. Nobody wanted him to move important pieces of the Habs' own future for rentals, and the price for more long-term solutions was too high. It turns out, however, that Gauthier was wrong. He should have done whatever it would have taken to acquire Gregory Campbell. The player's not worth much, of course, but the "get out of jail free" card that comes with him is worth its weight in gold. It doesn't matter that his dad, NHL discipline guru Colin Campbell, doesn't pass judgement on infractions committed by Greg's teammates. Campbell's friend and hand-picked assistant, Mike Murphy does. The optics are bush-league and the potential for conflict of interest would be intolerable in any real professional league.
There's something wrong with the NHL. There's something deeply, seriously wrong with the culture and the flawed subjectivity that passes for discipline. Murphy stunned no one in the hockey world when he decided Zdeno Chara's breaking Max Pacioretty's neck and injuring his brain did not deserve a suspension. The only question is why he even bothered to have the hearing at all.
This is Murphy's statement:
"I conducted a hearing with Boston Bruins' defenseman Zdeno Chara with respect to the major penalty for interference and game misconduct that he was assessed at 19:44 of the second period for a hit on Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens.
"After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline. This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly -- with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards. I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous.
"This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface. In reviewing this play, I also took into consideration that Chara has not been involved in a supplemental discipline incident during his 13-year NHL career."
Interesting. Murphy sees no basis for supplemental discipline. Nothing about Chara getting his forearm up around Pacioretty's head and neck bothered the powers that be. It didn't raise any concern that Chara could clearly see the stanchion in front of him, yet continued to follow through on the hit. The consequences; a 22-year-old former first-round draft pick with his whole career in front of him now dealing with a broken neck and bruised brain, didn't count in the league's assessment.
The problem with league "discipline" is Murphy and Campbell look at the mechanics of the hit and then try to wedge it into the rules. If it doesn't fit, they'll suspend the offender. If, however, they can say "Okay, that was from the side, not behind," they'll conclude it doesn't break the rules and therefore isn't suspension-worthy. The league tries to make a one-size-fits-all policy, which doesn't work. The same thing happened with the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard. All right-thinking people saw that hit and recognized the devastation visited on Savard. Yet, even though it was obviously wrong, it didn't fit within the league's antiquated rules about hits to the head, so Campbell did nothing. The public raised a cry of outrage and the rules changed, but Campbell himself did nothing.
Saying Chara did nothing wrong because he has a clean record is laughable. That's like saying you had a pit bull who was always well-behaved, until a kid taunted him and your dog ripped the kid's arm off. It was in the heat of the moment and the dog didn't mean it, but the cops don't care if it's his first offence. He still gets put down.
It's even more ridiculous to laud Chara for not leaving his feet. Seriously? Who on earth would a man nearly seven feet tall have to jump up to hurt?
What's wrong in the NHL is that it doesn't follow the same logic as the rest of the world. If you drive a car on the highway and cut off another vehicle because you're trying to pass it, and if that move causes an accident, you will be charged with reckless driving. If the accident you caused hurts or kills another person, the severity of the charges goes up. Of course, you didn't mean to hurt someone; you only wanted to pass that car. The law doesn't care. If you are reckless and hurt someone, you will pay the price. The outcome might not have been your intention, but you must still be accountable for the consequences of your actions.
The excuse that hockey is a physical game and players sign up for the risk doesn't hold much water either. The hit on Pacioretty called to mind the horrifying luge accident at the Vancouver Olympics, which cost the life of Nodar Kumaritashvili. Luge is obviously a risky sport and the athletes go into it knowing they might be hurt. They don't, however, expect a track that officials know is much too fast. In the same way, Pacioretty didn't expect his acceptable risk to include having his head slammed into an immovable object and his neck broken.
That the NHL has chosen to ignore right and reason in this case and let Chara walk free is a blight on the league and a shame to the game. Chara may not have meant to break Pacioretty's neck (and we can hope that's the case), but he did it. That he faces no reprimand for the consequences of his actions, intended or not, is disgraceful.
Postscript: That Pierre Gauthier has decided to zip his lip about the lack of NHL action against Chara is equally disgraceful. This kind of behaviour continues because nobody says anything that forces the NHL to at least gear up the PR machine and pay lip service to fixing the problem. Gauthier had a great camping spot on the moral high ground and could have used it to defend his player and make a statement that might, with the assistance of public pressure, have helped change the game. He chose to shut up and let the league deliver its "justice," and that's a disappointing shame.