NHL drops ball on Chara

The NHL has decided Boston’s Zdeno Chara will not be fined or suspended for his vicious hit on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty.

Once again, the league has dropped the ball and failed to show consistency when it comes to suspending and fining players.

Pacioretty was removed from the ice taped to a stretcher. He suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra on the play. As of the last update, the Habs forward had feeling and movement in his extremities. There has been no statement released as to when, or if, Pacioretty will be able to return to action. He is listed as being out “indefinitely.”

Because his son plays for Boston, the league’s usual VP in charge of handing out fines and suspensions, Colin Campbell, was not involved in the league’s decision on Chara. The decision not to suspend the Bruins defenseman was made by senior vice president Mike Murphy.

In a statement announcing his decision, Murphy described the hit as, “a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface.”

“After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline,” Murphy added. “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, 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.”

There are several issues that need to be looked at here, but the biggest one appears to be intent.

There is a history between the two players that suggests there very likely was some intent on the play. On Jan. 8, Chara thought Pacioretty was a little too enthusiastic in celebrating the Habs’ overtime game-winning goal against the Bruins. The big Bruins defenseman threw several punches after the celebration and Pacioretty was one of the three players he tried to hit. Chara received a 10-minute misconduct as a result of his actions.

On Feb. 9, the infamous brawl-filled game between the Canadiens and Bruins, Chara got involved in a scrum and threw two punches at Pacioretty’s head while another Bruin was holding back Pacioretty’s arms. There was clearly a recent history of bad blood between the two players.

There are several reasons Chara should have been suspended for Tuesday night’s incident. The hit was clearly late and described by many analysts (who are former players) as “unnecessary.” The puck was already well past Pacioretty. There is a recent history between the two players and the two teams, and the injury in this case was severe. And while the play happened quickly, it was Chara, not Pacioretty, who had a better view of where the glass was jutting out just before he made contact with his opponent. In addition, Pacioretty did nothing to instigate this particular incident.

Several things work in Chara’s favor. He does not have a history of dirty play and is not considered a “repeat offender” by the league. He also clearly showed remorse and concern after the fact, which at least should act as a mitigating circumstance.

Past history usually reduces or adds to the length of a suspension, but does not eliminate it. It is too easy for fans to say that Chara got favorable treatment because he is a perennial All-Star. This was a dangerous hit and it needs to be addressed.

The league’s policy on fines and suspensions should be easily understood and consistent. Right now, it is neither. Try explaining that to Max Pacioretty.

Now that no suspension has been issued, does anybody care to guess what is going to happen when Chara and the Bruins take to the Garden ice against the Canadiens on March 24?

The league could have done something to prevent that. It didn’t.