Same Bruins, same league

March 9th, 2011
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How bad can something be that one agrees with the Globe and Mail? Well, those of you who, like me and my 11-year-old daughter, sat through the distressing and sickening spectacle last night of Montreal Canadien Max Pacioretty lying unconscious on the ice may just be there. With 15 seconds left in the second period, as he was speeding by gargantuan Beantown defenceman Zdeno Chara, the head of the Habs forward was run into the “padded” stanchion near the Bruins bench by the outstretched arm of the Bruins captain. The latter was called for interference and also received a game misconduct penalty.

As it turns out, this is the only punishment Chara will receive, at least from the NHL. Meanwhile, Pacioretty lies in a Montreal hospital with a severe concussion and fractured vertebra in his neck. His mother and father had attended the game.

While few scorn clean physicality in hockey, something is clearly going awry. I think the best analysis is the argument that players have simply lost respect for each other and that shows in the nature of the play. As the Globe’s Sean Gordon says here “the nuance … is that he (Chara) may not have meant to injure an opponent, but he did mean to hurt him …” The former being presumably unacceptable, the latter acceptable.

Regarding the NHL’s decision not to suspend Chara, sadly, no surprise there. While headshots are the current problem, fans will recall the rash of knee-on-knee contact some years ago that went unchecked for the longest time.

Francois Gagnon of LaPresse perhaps said it best last night when he observed that the league could either try to judge  the incident, the intent, or the result. As it turns out, they virtually chose “none-of-the-above”, or rather, narrowly interpreted the incident itself. One Calgary radio jock argued that the injury had occurred during an illegal act by Chara. Good point. Another good analysis, by RDS’ Renaud Lavoie, is found here.

As much as one could dredge up a litany of Boston Bruinisms going all the way back to Eddie Shore, it’s sufficient to merely point out that this was done by a Bruin. How often the tough, lunch-bucket persona of that team has crossed the line is for each fan to judge. Let’s just say they weren’t ever called the “Flying Bruins”, nor were they ever accused of playing “Firewagon hockey”. Chara can just feel fortunate, and the Habs lament, that there’s no John Ferguson playing in Montreal these days.

Needless to say, if Montreal or another team tries to even the score after an incident like this they now have to ensure that it be done as part of a “hockey play” and not be too obvious about it. As Gordon says, they’re free to try to hurt somebody like Chara, just not injure him.

Michel Bergeron said last night what must have been on many people’s minds – how many times does this have to happen until the one time an injured player doesn’t get up? Guess they’ll name a trophy after him, like Bill Masterton.

Obviously I don’t like the Bruins, never have. But incidents like the one last night, and all the ones leading up to it, are starting to overshadow the game – as if the Crosby headshot hadn’t done that already. Simply put, when – if ever – will the NHL earn our respect?

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By John Weissenberger