Friday, March 11, 2011

NHL Has Lost Touch With Reality

Chara drives Pacioretty's head into the stanchion
Given the NHL's reaction to Zdeno Chara's now infamous hit on Max Pacioretty, it's hard not to conclude that the NHL powers are badly out of touch with reality.

It's clear that they also badly miscalculated public perception when they gave Zdeno Chara a pass on his violent and dangerous hit. The league will tell us that they cannot take public opinion into account when dishing out punishment in relation to an on-ice foul, but they should.
The NHL is an entertainment business and tailoring its product to what customers want makes good business sense.
I think it's fair to say that the fans didn't like what they saw and expected the NHL to see it the same way.
One the leagues sponsor's AIR CANADA has already sent an ominous letter to the league warning that they are considering pulling out because of the increased level of violence.
"From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality.  AIR CANADA
The Pacioretty incident was so violent and gruesome that it jumped off the sports pages into the mainstream press and unfortunately, the league's non-reaction solidifies the general perception (outside the league's fan base) that professional hockey is nothing more than glorified roller derby on ice.

The incredibly graphic nature of the hit and the spectre of a motionless body sprawled on the ice for an agonizing amount of time did more to set back minor hockey, than any other incident in the recent past.

What mother charged with protecting the well-being of her child could watch that incident without being put off hockey for her child, thinking perhaps that soccer is a better choice?

Most of you watched the incident after the fact and the chilling effect was no doubt mitigated by the knowledge that Pacioretty made it to the hospital and although badly injured, was not facing a life-threatening situation.

But for those of us of us who witnessed the incident in real time on TV, we lived through several minutes of abject horror as Pacioretty lay motionless on the ice. As we watched the doctors and training staff struggle over his limp body, there was legitimate concern that Pacioretty may have become the first on-ice fatality. 

The NHL and their disciplinary organ in their collective wisdom decided to give Chara a pass, an act that defies legal principles and common good sense.

Is there anyone who doubts that if Pacioretty was killed, that Chara would be facing involuntary manslaughter charges?

The NHL rationale is best expressed by apologist and fart-catcher Scott Burnside who's piece for ESPN explained the attitude of the dinosaurs that run the NHL.

"Tuesday's ruling was plain and simple about separating the result from the act." LINK


I hope Mr. Burnside never stands before a real judge and tries that sort of defence.
"Your Honour, I know I was driving drunk, but the fact that I hit a child riding a bicycle and broke one of his vertebrae and left him severely concussed, should not have any bearing on my punishment. It was a simple act of drunk driving which should be separated  from the result"
I don't believe that there's a judge in North America who wouldn't throw the book at the fool offering that sort of defence. If Mr. Burnside had legal representation the lawyer would be well advised to tape his client's mouth shut before allowing him to make that pitch.

"The other defence being bandied about by Chara's defenders is that the hit was out of character and that he never meant to injure Pacioretty.
"You honour, I shouldn't be punished because it's out of my character and at any rate, I didn't mean it"

Such is the fantasy world of the Scott Burnside and the NHL.
 Let me quote Charles P. Pierce in the Boston Globe;

"Executive assistant district attorney Jack McCoy (Law & Order) used to warn us all that "intent follows the bullet." If you get a little sockless one night and shoot a gun out the window of your apartment accidentally into the wall across the alley, you are not punished as harshly as would be the case if you got a little sockless one night and shot a gun out the window of your apartment accidentally into the noggin of a bicycle messenger who is riding down the alley....Which is about where Zdeno Chara is right now."- Link To Hab and Hab not
Hockey fans are not as stupid or bloodthirsty as the league presumes. Fans like clean open ice checks and yes, a good punch up between two matched players who follow the rules, duke it out a bit and then break cleanly. If a player is outmatched or unable to defend himself, the referees break up the fight and the 'winning' fighter is expected to back off honourably. These are fair rules that everybody follows scrupulously. No fan wants to see a mismatched fight or somebody cheating by biting or kicking or some other dishonourable act.
At any rate we all know that these types of fights rarely lead to serious injury and it satisfies our blood lust rather harmlessly.

That being said, fans don't appreciate players being launched head first into the boards or given a dangerous cheap shot, be it an elbow to the head, knee to knee contact or a cowardly slew foot.
Does it make sense at all for players racing back to touch the puck for icing to be subjected to gratuitous and completely unnecessary body checks from behind?

The NHL has demonstrated in the past that the game can be modified significantly without affecting the competition. I recently screened an old playoff game from the seventies and was amazed at the ghoulish and dangerous behaviour of players, where hooking and interference was the norm. The league changed for the better and can eliminate certain dangerous behaviour without affecting the on-ice product, it is a question of will.

Ten years ago, Formula One car racing suffered a run of dangerous accidents and deaths. Cars had gotten too fast and dangerous. The powers that be realized that such was unacceptable and made significant changes both safety-wise and even took the unpopular decision to slow cars down through technical limitations. It had to be done, those who ran the sport knew it was in their selfish best interest to fix a dangerous situation.
Today Formula One remains as competitive and exciting as ever. Accidents, which are much fewer and farther between have much less devastating consequences.

It's high time that the NHL paid attention to the welfare of their players. If they can't see to it, fans should demand it.

Incidentally, the very worst thing for Chara was not to be suspended, it would have been in his own best interest to sit out for a couple of games. Coupled with a sincere apology (which he has not offered to date,) he could have put this incident behind him, no matter what Pacioretty's outcome.

Most Boston fans concede with good grace, that a 2-4 game suspension would have ended the incident.
Now Chara stands marked forever as a goon in the court of public opinion and just like O.J. Simpson, a man scorned for having gotten away with murder, the perception remains among fans that Chara got away with a dirty hit causing injury.

I'll presume now to speak for all readers of this blog, in wishing Max Pacioretty a speedy recovery.
If you'd like to send a personal public message to Max Pacioretty, please feel free to use the comment section.

Have a wonderful weekend.


  1. To date Air Canada has been the only sponsor with the integrity to do the right thing. They have put millions of dollars on the line to do the right thing.

    These are some of the sponsors yet to make a public statement;
    - Bridgestone
    - Cisco Systems
    - McDonald's
    - Canadian Tire
    - Tim Hortons
    - BlackBerry
    - Discover
    - Hershey
    - Miller/Coors

    If anyone knows of other sponsors please mention them here.

    If Gary Bettman feels that the NHL has options when it comes to air travel, I think the general public also has options when it comes to which corporations they will support...

    As a consumer will you do the right thing?

  2. I've been a hockey fan for decades, and have been unhappy since John Zeigler became the NHL president (now commissioner). He wasn't too bad, but I felt the NHL's first three presidents, Messrs. Calder, Dutton and Campbell were Canadians who put game quality first and the bottom line second.

    Zeigler didn't seemingly rock the boat too much, but as soon as I saw Bettman, I knew the Canadian game as we know it is now gone forever. He used to be at the top of the NBA chain, and I always found the environs of basketball too...well...gimmicky, and I knew Bettman would Americanize hockey to the point Canadians wouldn't recognize it.

    From a business model standpoint, what Bettman did on paper did make sense. His goal from the get-go was to bring the NHL to 30 teams, and Bettman succeeded, but at what cost? Many of the teams are losers (financially), and many venues only exist because state and local governments offered tax incentives to create jobs building the arenas.

    Thanks to salary caps, cities like Winnipeg and Quebec can now succeed, but will these cities ever see teams again? Phoenix is a financial black hole, and I don't see hockey doing so well in Tennessee, Florida or Ca-ro-laaahhh-na! All of those teams have been experiencing financial difficulties.

    Twice under Bettman, there have been two terrible player strikes, once abbreviating the season by 40% of its games, the other completely lost, a pro sports first! That did NOTHING for the bottom line, except make it smaller, even in the red the second time! I somehow perceive that if a New York/New Jersey player suffered Pacioretty's fate. the League's response would have been different as the incident would have literally been too close to home to ignore.

    All told, Max Pacioretty is taking his fate with extraordinary maturity as he doesn't want to see the police involved, and I wish him well in his recovery, hoping he gets another chance to play the game another day.

  3. You know, what happened really made me sick. Not just the hit itself, but how the NHL handles it.

    From the very beginning, the best NHL could do was to have a phone call. Chara did not even have to be physically present to be accountable for his action. For all we know, he could have just paused his PlayStation to receive the call.

    And then Bettman with straight face told Air Canada to fuck off.

    But us, as fans, what can we do? There is simply no way that as Canadians and particularly as Montrealers we can leave hockey. Simply impossible. Unlike in the U.S. major cities, we do not have anybody else to root for. Who do you think? Alouettes? Impact? Juniors? They are way too small as alternatives. For example, Editors, are you willing to give up your season tickets? Are you willing not to renew next season?

    Therefore, as tragic and as unfair this chain of events, there is nothing, really nothing we can do to change it. My only hope is that the Molsons - as the owner of the oldest, winningest and third most profitable team in the NHL can put pressure in the Board of Governors. Maybe if they can make an ally with Lemieux they can make the change.

  4. Look anything coming out of Quebec is just spin, lies and propaganda. The hit was clean, its part of the game and to bad suckers, that’s life. As for the big mouth politician’s, police, air Canada... sticking their brain dead noses into it, shut up, get lost, worry about the racist language laws (bill 22, 178, 101…) in Quebec. Anything coming from Quebec having to do with the Montreal hockey club is all about the soap opera, hysterical, biker gang, trailer park trash mentality of Quebec and the French. Typical brain dead, to be ignored nonsense... Spare us the daily french, Quebec, Montreal Canadians crap please or at least leave in Quebec, we are sick of it.

    As for the media outside Quebec, you should all be ashamed of yourselves, please give us a break we are sick of hearing about anything to do with Quebec period. Spare us the drama; this is not an issue that deserves this kind of exposure, especially outside of Quebec.

    Good hit Chara.It was clean, the way the game should be played.

    Enough with the cry baby, brain dead, union government, Quebec/french ass kissing drama. Get a life idiots.

  5. Re: Anonymous 10:50
    ...and speaking of brain-dead idiots, what a moronic diatribe he managed to have someone put together for him. Reminds me of a riddle: what has 8 years of education and an IQ of 34? The attendees at Anon 10:50's family re-union.

  6. @ Anonymous @ 9:06

    As fans we are the only ones who can do something. We have all the power to make a difference.

    - You can go protest @ the bell center, but that will be a waste of time.


    - Buy tires other then Bridgestone
    - By Lynks routers instead of Cisco
    - Go to Wendies/Harvey's/ Burger King instead of McDonald's
    - Reno-Depot/RONA/HOME DEPOT instead of Canadian Tire
    - Second Cup/Dunkin Donuts instead of Tim Hortons
    - Nokia/Sony Ericsson/LG instead of BlackBerry
    - Plenty of non-Hershey candy out there...
    - PLeanty of beer otehr than Miller/Coors too...

    Boycott NHL sponsors, other then Air Canada who actually has the guts to do the right thing.

  7. Vous êtes brillants pour le manque de présence de votre matière blanche: TOUS !

  8. Boycotting just won't work because not enough people will do it. Bettman is probably thrilled with what happened because it puts the topic of hockey on people's minds, even those who don't follow hockey.

    Don Cherry, the NHLPA and the players are practically screaming to change the icing rule to no-touch, just like the international rules call for, but no progress there. Careers are ending because of icing chases. Ridiculous! Maybe, just maybe, the rules will change re head shots, especially if Sid Crosby can't return, or he has to sit out next season, etc. He is the best player in the game right now.

    I even wonder if the head shot rules will change when (yes, WHEN) a player is killed on the ice. Well...maybe they'll THINK about it. Whether they'll do something about it will remain to be seen.

    It seem while technology is finding ways for players to be safer playing the game itself, the players themselves figure there is a certain invulnerability to hitting any way they choose.

    Maybe the solution is to go back to the era when goalies didn't wear masks, their chest protection was a piece of felt and the players didn't wear helmets. It seems there was consideration for the players and their vulnerabilities back then and players didn't take head shots. I remember Bobby Hull, while with the Blackhawks apologizing once to Rogie Vachon, while with the Canadiens for a slap shot that caught Vachon in the chin, stating it got away from him.

    Human beings are not invincible, no matter how much equipment is protecting them and no matter how good the technology has improved. I even think chirping should be removed from the game as certain players never shut up. There has to be SOME sportsmanship for God sake!

  9. Stop all the sports for one year and try to love the Quebeckers.

  10. "Stop all the sports for one year and try to love the Quebeckers."

    I will hold only contempt for the Quebecois as long as they support laws that suspend the fundamental liberties of others.

  11. I just wanted to say, as a FORMER hockey fan, Bettman's NHL is not something any sane individual would support. Even football is better, the way they treat their players.

    To the other anonymous worshiping the headshots - how can a "clean hit" almost KILL a player? Why are hockey fans so sadistic these days? I've followed since the 1990s, and have never seen so many "fans" cheering on violence like this.