Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Does it Matter What Chara Intended?

No and Yes. Yes and No.

Many fans are missing the point this morning as they rant for one faction or the other on the hit that dropped the Bell Centre to its knees.

The back and forth of the debate rages about whether Zdeno Chara intended to injure Max Pacioretty or not. Slow replays the tools. Many fans are burning Chara at the stake for insisting the outcome was not what he had in mind.

Of course it would be nice to know what Chara thought and settle this once and for all. But we've all played sports and we all know that what we think in a moment is not necessarily how we would like to represent our "thoughts" on a matter, our beliefs.

Does it even matter what the Bruin captain thought in that moment, immediately before, or immediately after?

I would suggest that it matters inasmuch that malicious intent would have to be severely punished. If Chara changed tune and stated that he intended to injure Pacioretty, but not this much, that would have to accelerate the consequences. But I don't think that will happen. And I think we have to take the stance that if we don't take players' word and trust that their motivation is to win 2 points and not injure, then we are taking a turn down a long and convoluted road.

More important than any of this. More important than what Chara thought, or thinks now, is what the NHL thinks and what they are willing to do about this kind of avoidable incident.

Regardless of the suspension the NHL decides to hand down to Chara, this is another moment in time during which they can choose to take a real stand on eliminating viciousness from the sport, something to this point they have only paid faint lip service.

What I would like to see come of this incident is this:

1) First and foremost, a return to good health for young Max Pacioretty

2) A serious inquiry and interview for Zdeno Chara, with a suspension that suggests the league is serious now, but also one that reflects the current rules

3) And last, but not least, a rule that lays the ground rules for what will happen in any future case like this one.

I think Scott Stinson laid down an excellent piece on this today:
"If the NHL had mandatory suspensions in place for shots to the head, or hits against vulnerable players, or however you want to define it, then it’s decision here would be easy. It would say, sorry Zdeno, but rules are rules and you are done for 20 games, or 10 games, or 50 games or whatever the punishment would be for a guy who is not new to the violent-hit game. But it doesn’t have that. Instead, disciplinarian Colin Campbell will do the usual routine where he interviews the guilty party, reviews the tape — which is pointless since everything relevant happened in fractions of seconds — and bring down a punishment that will please few people."

Indeed, this should be a "Sorry Zdeno" case, but the league has been lax in their commitment to removing violence and especially dangerous "accidents". As I said before, drunk drivers don't intend to kill anyone, nor do people texting and driving, they only mean to save time. But actions have consequences. If people agree the consequences are too steep, it's time to set the appropriate curbing mechanisms for the actions.

At the end of the day, I would much prefer that I never have to stand by and watch for evidence of breathing and movement from an athlete on my screen than for arbitrary suspensions to fly without future implication.

The NHL owes this much to Max Pacioretty, his parents who were at the game, and to all its players, employees and fans. The NHL can't simply wait until the time that player doesn't move. For that, there's no excuse.

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