Wednesday, March 9, 2011


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.


Mike said...

‎"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." - Colin Campbell on Ovechkin's suspension last year.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Jay in PA said...

I hate to say it, but I might be done with hockey after this. This is no Mario Lemieux-style posturing, but a recognition that I have better things to do with my time and money than support a broken league run by cronies operating on flawed principles. There's always Olympic hockey.

Lyse said...

Excellent post. Don't entirely agree with last paragraph however, but to explain why would be another post on its own.

Don't ever stop blogging.

moeman said...


Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment of Gauthier. He has a forum and the moral high ground. The fact that he chooses to say nothing is disgraceful.

The NHL will levy fines but so be it. If Gauthier is fined for speaking out the lack of repercussion to Chara would stand out even more.

The habs players will take no action next game. That is a given. They may not like the hit but none are prepared to do anything about it. Its a shame that once again the Bruins get away with it...


Tara said...

One word for you: Genius. Well done for taking this on. Painful as it is, maybe this will rally true fans of the game.

Unknown said...

I'm truly shocked and saddened by the NHL's lack of action on this hit. Quite the leaders they have at the NHL.

I look at the picture of Chara plastered on TSN's front page and the first thing I noticed was the 'C' on the front of his jersey. Quite the leader they have in boston.

I admire every single player on the Habs team who, with class and dignity, spoke about Pacioretty and his unfortunate 'hockey play'. I treasure the skill with which they played the beautiful hockey last night. Gauthier's silence today spoke volumes. That's quite some leadership that organization has in Montreal.

Scott Gomez spoke about the sound of Pacioretty's hit, comparing it to the sound of a gunshot. I'm not a malicious person but I hope Chara hears that sound for the rest of his career and I hope that it haunts him and affects the way he plays.

Unknown said...

@Mike, if that statement can be made public, you don't even know how much light there will be.

I think Mr. Gauthier won't express his, and the club's opinions, publicly. Key word is "publicly". I do hope the organization does deliver something to league some how though. If it was publicly, I think it would've done more harm than good.

That said, I always take great pleasure into reading the things you write. Please, keep at it.

Marc-Olivier said...

Hey JT, don't know if you have a FB account, but his group is interesting:
Against dangerous hits in hockey/ Contre les coups dangereux au hockey

I just started it, close to a 100 member already.
Join the group! ;)

Eventually, with enough people, I'd like to forward it to NHL authorities.

It's worth a try and it's free ;)

dan edmunds said...

well said

Woodvid said...

I second Jay in PA. Anyway, the reason I came to comment was this, Chara's comment about the matter:

"It's just one of those things... like glass extensions, doors, even hockey nets are part of the game and obviously players run into them."

"Players run into them?" Like it was a fluke accident? Or that it was impossible for Chara to avoid ramming Pac's head into a pole?

This is craziness. I feel like I am losing my mind!

dusty said...

All we can do is prey that Max plays again and that the Bruins lose in the first round. And that Campbell and Murphy get fired some day soon. Real soon.

DT said...

If the league had given Chara just one game suspension, they'd be admiting he's guilty, which could then lead to criminal charges by Pacioretty and that wouldn't do. Oh no, not in this league. That's 2 crimes committed. This sport is ugly.

Anonymous said...

I still can't get all this out of my head. I am shocked. Shocked, that Chara walks. We, as fans need to do something. Sit out one game in protest is my answer.

Unknown said...

I too agree with Jay in PA. I wish there were more ways to register our discontent with this bush league. Let's hope more people act reasonably and vote on this shameful behavior with their dollars.

The hit and the league's reaction (or lack thereof) both make me sick to my stomach.

Well said J.T.! As almost always, I fully agree with you on all counts.

V said...

Thanks for the article JT.

I just read excerpts from a letter Air Canada (I assume this is a legit letter) sent the NHL today telling them that in light of the incident with Pacioretty (as the latest in a series of recent head injuries) if the NHL does not get on top of this issue they will pull their sponsorship.

I wrote Air Canada this evening to thank them for taking this public position.

Anonymous said...

JT, I am a huge fan of your blog.
I cringed and was totally disgusted to see it happen live last night on tv. Now I cringe even more when I see the replay and sports stations slowing it down.
Chara pushes Pacioretty with his arms into the end of the glass and Pacioretty didn't have the puck. - case closed deliberate attempt to injure.
Now we all wait for details on Pacioretty's status to come out and hope he can have a productive life.
I am a firm believer in an eye for an eye in these cases - as long as Pacioretty is out Chara should be out, sorry tough $%@^.

As I write this I have many things running through my head. I have been a HABS FAN for a long time, since the early 80's. I totally love hockey but after what I saw last night I am digusted and think that the Head office of the NHL is just a huge joke.
I hate to say it but I could be walking away from the game and not supporting it.

Yves said...

Great article.

I'm still disgusted. NHL does nothing.


Paul B. said...

The NHL must be very happy with the exposure this savage and deliberate attack gave them in the US.

Because this probably was shown on most on most networks and mentioned in many newspapers, there will probably be a few more people attending the games in the US for at least a little while.

Isn't this business mainly about money, after all ?

Anonymous said...

NHL must stand for National Hypocrit League

Anonymous said...

One can only hope that the police lay charges and, at the very least, make it impossible for Chara to play on Canadian ice ever again. Anyone who lives in La Belle Province, please put pressure on your local authorities to charge this reckless criminal act!

If the NHL doesn't have the guts to save hockey, it's time for a new NHL. These goons do not own the game. It's time for us fans to take it back.

Patrick said...

People in the NHL would need to read you.

Heck, they'd need as much common sense as you got.

I still can't believe all this, but I do believe it's FAR from over.

Anonymous said...

The Montreal police Dept has been ordered/asked by the guy at the Justice Dept (Louis Dionne) in charge of criminal prosecution in the Province of Quebec to investigate the "incident".

Frederick said...

I'm tired of all those people claiming that the same play on the other side of the rink would have caused nothing. The place where you commit an action IS PART of that action.

Nobody can plea that pushing people down the stairs and killing them isn't homicide because if you do the same same against a wall it would have done nothing.

Every player knows about those poles; Chara knows about those poles. He knew it was a reckless move and he did it anyway, he is responsible.

DB said...

The solution to the NHL's problems is obvious - it needs to formally adopt "The Code" by incorporating it into the rulebook.

The NHL would appoint Don Cherry as High Commissioner of the Code and Georges Laraque as the Chief Code Enforcer.

I know this will work because I'm told every Saturday night about the wonders of The Code. And we all know Don Cherry is never wrong because he keeps telling us he's perfect.

Anonymous said...

It seems like we're forgetting the obvious: the NHL has just ruled that riding people head first into the turnbuckle is a hockey play, and non-suspendable regardless of injury. Now that's a scary ruling.


Jay in PA said...

Holy cats, Kairos is right! I guess the thing is, you have to not be intending to do it, or at least be willing to say so.

Anonymous said...

How about this... a tractor trailer attempts to pass a smaller compact vehicle but runs out of room and it suddenly cuts back into the lane. The action results in the compact car being thrown into a rock cut...

Does it matter that the tractor trailer is "bigger and heavier" than the compact car? Does it matter that things are happening "so fast"?

Is that driver not held accountable for his actions and their consequences regardless of whether or not he "intended" to cause harm?

Intent is irrelevant. It's all about a mindset and the behaviour emanating from that mindset. The behaviour leads to the act and (sadly) the entirely predictable consequence. This is also the very mindset that caused what Chara stated as an "unfortunate" consequence.

I don't care that that Chara didn't "intend" to hurt him. That doesn't matter. What matters is that the league continues to accept and even endorse a mindset that doesn't discourage reckless behaviour. Even when it leads to dire consequences. The message is clear... It's just fine as long as its a "hockey play".

This is about changing human behaviour and the mindset that causes that behaviour.

If you want to change negative behaviour you must institute a consequence for that behaviour that is so severe that people won't even entertain the thought of committing the act in the first place. The fact that there is no negative consequence in this case (for the player who committed the act) means that the undesirable behaviour won't be discouraged and further implies that it's perfectly acceptable to do whatever you want to an opponent.

The NHL must act decisively. It has to work immediately to change the mindset/behaviour of coaches and players alike so that the act that leads to the consequence doesn't happen in the first place.

NHL has a duty to its players first and the millions of fans (particularly hockey loving kids) to do the right thing and set the bar high. Instead it threw the bar away.

Their silence is nothing short of unconscionable!!

dusty said...

Federko and Panger say it's a hockey play. Both agree Montreal fans are over emotional. Also, Federko says extra padding would restrict the view of paying customers so that's clearly not an option. Wow, he must be running for Governor of Missouri. He's got the right attitude. Are all ex NHLer's retarded or just defending their own?

Sad to see the Habs not really mentally in the game. Understandable but sad. Price hung out to dry.

CheGordito said...

Hi JT.

I watched the game on a feed from a Boston station. Even their commentators were shocked by it, called it indefensible, and said Pacioretty had no chance and nowhere to go in that situation.

Anyways, I'm pretty upset about the hit, and after the NHL's non-punishment, I think it's time to leave. The Canadiens have been something special, although I've only known the team when it wasn't winning Stanley Cups. But I don't like the person I become when I watch that kind of brutality. I wouldn't even call that hockey. So I've decided to cut myself off from NHL hockey. A bit like cutting off my nose to spite my face, but, I just can't justify supporting this brutal industry that kills its own stars. A bit like another commenter above..

I've commented on your site as CheGordito and sometimes V (not to be confused with the other V above..), but not that often, especially recently. I just wanted to say, I've enjoyed your commentary and insight, even when I've disagreed. Your blog holds my heart.

Best regards,