Daily Debate: Punishment for Zdeno Chara; Gary Bettman's message to Phoenix

March, 9, 2011
3/09/11
11:25
AM ET

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss the complications in determining Zdeno Chara's punishment for his hit on Max Pacioretty, and commissioner Gary Bettman's final warning to Phoenix.

Burnside: Good day, my friend. Well, we talked about what to expect from Tuesday's rematch between Montreal and Boston, and sadly it turned out there was another ugly incident; Zdeno Chara's controversial hit on forward Max Pacioretty has once again enflamed debate around the league about dangerous plays and the safety of the league's players. As you first reported Wednesday morning, Chara will have a telephone interview at noon ET Wednesday with the NHL's Mike Murphy, which means if Chara is suspended at all, it will be for a handful of games. That won't make Habs fans happy since they are demanding severe punishment in the wake of a hit that has reportedly left Pacioretty with a serious concussion and possibly a neck injury. But this hit is a tough one to sort out. No way to prove that Chara meant to drive Pacioretty into the partition at the end of the glass at the Bell Center. Indeed, if the hit takes place pretty much anywhere else on the side boards, it's likely no more than a minor penalty for interference. But the result was so devastating that there are many calls for the league to make some sort of statement. A tough one to be sure.

[+] EnlargeMax Pacioretty
Richard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesCanadiens forward Max Pacioretty was hospitalized after a Zdeno Chara hit sent him face-first into the stanchion at the end of Boston's bench.

LeBrun: I hate the result of the play, HATE it. Seeing the young Pacioretty lying on the ice motionless was revolting. My thoughts and prayers are with him in his recovery. Having said all that, I agree with you, Scotty: I don't think it be can proved that Chara had malicious intent on the play. Obviously, the stanchion being there is what made the play so dangerous. I know there is video proving that Chara extended his arms and finished his check, but that's what he does all over the ice no matter what. I think what's incriminating for Chara is that there is history between the two players. Following Pacioretty's overtime winner against the visiting Bruins on Jan. 8, the Habs winger purposely shoved Chara during his goal celebration, which sent the Bruins captain into a wild tirade. And of course, we all know what happened the next time both teams met in a fight-filled Feb. 9 affair. Those are intangibles the NHL can't totally ignore today. But in the end, as much as I hate the play, I don't know how you prove that Chara wanted to severely injure Pacioretty.

Burnside: I recall a recent conversation I had with Toronto GM Brian Burke, who used to be the NHL's lord of discipline (a post currently held by Colin Campbell). I floated the idea -- not a new one, naturally -- of somehow incorporating the severity of the injury into the punishment equation. It does, to some extent, but Burke pointed out that there is no way to simply say, Player A is suspended until Player B returns to action, or something along those lines. Each incident carries with it too many variables, too many things that set it apart from other incidents, like the history between Pacioretty and Chara. If, as it looks the day after, Pacioretty will miss significant time from this hit, it will enrage Hab fans and others if Chara sits for a game or two at most. Pacioretty has had a breakout season being called up from the AHL. His loss, if it extends into the playoffs, is another blow for a Habs team that is already bereft of a number of key players. Imagine, then, if the two teams meet in the playoffs? It would be galling for many to see the Bruins go on a long playoff run led by their captain, Chara, while the Habs' may see their season cut short because of this play. Did I mention this is a tough one?

LeBrun: I completely disagree with you regarding tying the severity of injuries to the severity of suspensions. It just can't work that way. Too much pressure/focus on the recovery of the victim with the league needing to closely monitor him, etc. ... nightmare. But you are 100 percent right about how tough this one is, as many are for the league. We love to hammer the league for discipline because there are times the NHL deserves criticism for its decisions. But the fact is, it's an incredibly difficult job, one that I wouldn't want even if they doubled my salary. And what obviously adds to the context here is the passionate/heated rivalry between these two clubs. This wasn't an incident between the Atlanta Thrashers and Columbus Blue Jackets. These were two Original Six teams coming off a 1970s-esque throwdown last month. This is a rivalry rich in history, involving many fisticuffs and ugly acts of violence. Hence the extreme reactions of fans on both sides of the divide on Twitter in the wake of Chara's hit. No middle ground here. But the NHL has to find it.

Speaking of the NHL, thanks to Chara, the league's urgent visit to Phoenix on Tuesday certainly took a back seat, eh?

Burnside: First, I wasn't suggesting that the NHL should adopt that as a strategy, but it does seem unjust that injured players -- like Washington's Mike Green, for instance, who is still out after being leveled by Derek Stepan's blindside hit that resulted in no suspension -- could be out of action for weeks and months while the violators get off with a slap on the wrist, if that. As for Phoenix, yes, the saga continues to play itself out. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly traveled to embattled Glendale to watch the Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks do battle Tuesday. The Canucks ended up winning in overtime in front of an announced crowd of 12,843. Yikes. That's not many for a late-season conference matchup, especially when the team is hanging by a thread. But what was more interesting than the outcome of the game was Bettman's dire warning that time is running out to get a deal done to keep the Coyotes in Glendale. Yes, I know, time has been running out on the Coyotes for about two years now, but I thought it was interesting -- with all the discussion about the stalled sale of municipal bonds and the standoff between the city of Glendale and the Goldwater Institute over the legality of a proposed lease arrangement with Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer -- that Bettman and Daly took this opportunity to make a very public trip to the desert. The NHL's last stand, so to speak?

LeBrun: I think this was the NHL saying, "We've done all we can, folks." But if Goldwater's threats manage to prevent the sale of the municipal bonds, this thing is over in Phoenix. There's nothing the league can do to call off Goldwater, there's nothing the league can do to force the sale of the bonds. No bonds, no sale to Hulsizer. It's as simple as that. And I think if you know Bettman well enough, as both of us do, Scotty, you would know by reading between the lines Tuesday that he was delivering his final warning in Phoenix. They may still salvage this thing, but Bettman's comments sounded ominous. Unless those bonds get sold in a very short time, the Coyotes are headed back home to Winnipeg. Tick tock. What will it be, Glendale?

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