Thursday, March 10, 2011
There have been clips of this incident on the news, and for my readers on the other side of the pond, it is brutal. It shows 6'9" veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara pushing Montreal's Max Pacioretty into a part of the rink glass known as the turnbuckle. The hit was so violent that the young man was knocked unconscious and hospitalized with a severe concussion and fractured 4th cervical vertebra. Since the spinal area controls the diaphragm, Mr. Pacioretty is lucky to have survived.
When an incident such as this happens, there are always shocked cries from onlookers. Whether it is Todd Bertuzzi's mauling of Steve Moore or Mark Messier ending Darcy Rota's career, there are questions that arise when the violent nature of hockey is nurtured to terrifying extremes. More and more, we are seeing serious head injuries ruin livelihoods and erase memories, with folks like Messier himself now trying to stop the bleeding that his type of reckless play caused. Messier has developed helmets that he thinks will help folks avoid brain damage, but is among the many that stay mum on the root of the problem.
What it boils down to is respect, and for whatever reason players are more willing to maim their opponents than in previous generations. Yes, there are huge players, but as I recall Moose Vasko and Barry Beck were far from tiny. There used to be an unwritten rule that the big guys would hit you face-first, knocking you on your well-passed backsides. You would hit to take a guy out of the play and create excitement, not to send him to the hospital unable to remember his wife's name. Zdeno Chara has been around the league for a very long time and if he had an iota of respect for this kid he would have let him go, but instead he shoves a 22 year old's melon into a piece of glass that shouldn't even be there. As for Max Pacioretty, his talent has burned the Bruins many times in his young career. The spirit of rivalry and revenge is so beaten into guys that Bruins fans consider this just desserts for Pacioretty daring to score a few overtime goals.
Max Pacioretty joins a number of NHL stars who are on the shelf due to brutal attacks on skilled players. Men like Brad Richards, Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard, Marian Gaborik are missing huge time due to head hunting when they should be chasing glory. We're even seeing goalies like Jonas Hiller sidelined due to brain injuries. All-in-all, over 30 skill players have lost chunks of this season due to injuries largely caused by players making names for themselves by taking the greatest names out of the game. The coach doesn't order you to go out and break a guy's neck, but if you do you'll be known as a guy who finishes checks.
There are talks about redesigning the glass, and for the partition between benches I have a few solutions. One would be to make the glass a consistent sheet. This would require players to use the doors instead of jumping over the bench, but it would remove the hazard that broke Pacioretty's spine. Another would be to have an extra padded piece of glass on a 45 degree angle on each side of the partition where the backup goalie and #12 forward chill for most of the game. It would have the advantage of slowing guys down so they aren't defenseless. One of these solutions should certainly be mandated, but it is not the end of it.
What needs to happen in the NHL is enforcement of no-nonsense rules about intentionally injuring players. While Zdeno Chara may not have intended to break a dude's neck, he absolutely intended to hurt Max Pacioretty to intimidate his opponents. The NHL needs to apply a policy similar to criminal justice ie if you rob someone and an individual dies, you are liable regardless of whether or not you intended to cause a death before the plan was hatched. Chara didn't set out to nearly kill a guy, but he certainly tried to harm him and he should be liable for the end result. If pleading to players not to be jackasses doesn't work, huge fines and suspensions certainly will.
Leaving all the boys alone to settle their disputes isn't working. The game is broken and Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell aren't getting the idea that the message they're sending is that ruining the lives of young men is okay as long as the results are wins. Maple Leafs fringe player Mike Komisarek got that message tonight- and sent Daniel Carcillo face-first into the boards.
Posted by Michel-Exildas Galipeau at 19:18