Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cross Checks [Print without images]

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Zdeno Chara ruling all about separating 'the result' from 'the act'

By Scott Burnside


This is why every single incident in the NHL is like a tiny, perfect snowflake.

They all look similar, but if you look more closely -- under a microscope as NHL executive Mike Murphy had to do in adjudicating the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty from Tuesday night -- you'll find tiny swirls and spikes that make each incident different from any other hits from Tuesday, the night before, or any others that are to come.

And when Murphy finally pulled his head away from the microscope, he came to the only conclusion he could given what he saw from the Chara-Pacioretty incident: There was no basis for a fine or suspension.

Case closed.

Of course, it's not really case closed.

Look at the hundreds of tweets and Twitterers and notes after Tuesday's ruling -- some showed approval, but more often than not, there was anguish over the decision.

"The NHL is a joke," many complained. Habs fans called Montreal police wanting to file criminal charges against Chara. (Given some Montrealers' penchant for rioting, we were surprised the downtown streets were relatively quiet Tuesday; perhaps they're just waiting for another playoff win before they go all Dr. Destructo.)

We have often hammered the NHL for its lack of consistency and teeth when it comes to meting out discipline. But, for once, we believe the league got it right.

We hated the outcome -- Pacioretty has a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra -- what human being didn't? But we don't really mind the punishment, or lack thereof, as Murphy ruled the on-ice penalty of a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct was the right call and would be the sum total of discipline handed out by the NHL.

Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty suffered a fractured vertebra and a severe concussion as a result of a check by Zdeno Chara Tuesday night.

"After a thorough review of the video, I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline," Murphy wrote in a statement explaining the basis for the ruling. "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, that 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."

Murphy, who was acting in the place of executive director Colin Campbell because Campbell's son plays with Chara in Boston, also pointed out that Chara has never been involved in a supplemental discipline hearing in his NHL career.

We wouldn't have minded a two-game suspension as a way of finding some kind of middle ground between the "off with Chara's head" and "blame the arena designers" camps. But it's not really the NHL's job to find consensus or the middle ground that may be acceptable to the hockey masses.

Part of the dilemma Campbell, Murphy et al face every night in handing out supplemental discipline, and trying to establish guidelines by which players can gauge their behavior, is in trying to draw lines from Incident A to Incident B. We noted how many in the hockey world were trying to draw lines from the Chara hit to Trevor Gillies, who has now been suspended 19 games this season for two separate incidents.

If the New York Islander's hit on Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck was worth 10 games, how is Chara driving Pacioretty into the stanchion not worth 10? Or 20? Apples (Chara) to prunes (Gillies). The desire for order in our lives and in our game prompts us to look for such lines, but sometimes they just don't exist.

In theory, this shouldn't be about treating one class of player differently than another (Chara is a multiple All-Star and former Norris Trophy winner, while Gillies is a marginal player). But did we mention snowflakes? Chara is a different kind of player than Gillies.

That was part of how Chara was judged. Get over it. Now, if you want to suspend Chara for 10 or 15 games because a hit ended up with a dreadful result, OK; but know this -- to do so would fundamentally change the game.

Every incidental high stick that results in a broken orbital bone or every garden-variety trip that results in a concussion or bruised knee would have to be judged by the same standards. Want that? The players don't. The GMs don't. The fans, unless they're Montreal fans Tuesday, by and large, don't.

Another argument from the "Murphy's ruling missed the boat" believers: Chara knew what he was doing. We watched the play 20 times, from different angles, and not one showed us what Chara was thinking.

As difficult as it was, Tuesday's ruling was plain and simple about separating the result from the act.

And in assessing this one snowflake of an act and whether it was worthy of a suspension, Murphy came up with an entirely reasonable answer: no.