That was a scary, horrifying moment last night watching Max Pacioretty lying prostrate after apparently nearly being decapitated by the stanchion between the benches at the Bell Centre. After several slow-motion shockfests I just watched the replay at full speed (finally) where I think a better perspective can be gained. I saw it thusly: Chara pushed Pacioretty's head and face into the post at full speed then skated away from the play as if nothing was wrong. Had he not meant to do that to him he almost definitely would have stopped after the collision and looked horrified at what had happened. He pretended not to notice anything had happened at all which makes me believe he knew exactly what he had done. Or he truly didn't notice in which case he is too dangerously stupid to be allowed to continue to play NHL hockey. In either case, this seems like the right time to make a stand - but the NHL is not exactly known for that. He'll probably get 2 games. My thinking is either it was an accident and he should get no suspension or he meant to do it and he should miss the rest of the season at minimum. A small, token suspension says "We can't decide what happened and don't know how to fix it if there is a problem... so in the meantime look at these shiny car keys!"
Max Pacioretty - like virtually every other member of the team he plays on - is a cheap-shot artist and a diving faker. (Apologies to my Hab fan friends and relatives, but you won't get an argument out of the fans of any of the other 28 teams in the NHL besides the Leafs and you guys). I vividly recall a game earlier in the year when Pacioretty scored a game-winning goal against the Bruins, raised his arms to celebrate and then immediately lowered them again to viciously hammer with both fists an unsuspecting Zdeno Chara who was skating away from the play and certainly not threatening to come anywhere near Pacioretty. Then he immediately went back to celebrating the goal as if that hadn't just happened. I remember the play because I was disgusted by it. I am pretty sure I posted about it on Facebook at the time. It sickened me. Fast-forward to last night's game. Habs with a 2-0 lead, Pacioretty going into the B's corner with the puck, Boychuk in pursuit. Pacioretty suddenly lifts his left leg - the leg farthest from Boychuk's stick - high up into the air and throws himself to the ice. The ref bites and calls a tripping penalty on Boychuk. (I've seen the replay several times - it was a better dive than Alexandre Despatie has ever executed in competition.) Of course the Habs scored on the PP.
Now I am not for a moment suggesting that what Chara did - if he meant to do it - should ever be condoned, applauded or even shrugged off. It was potentially lethal - unless, of course, Pacioretty is faking this as well. If he returns again before April it will stink a fair bit. What I am saying is that in professional sports if you continually, ruthlessly and generally without provocation make it your business to get under the other team's skin - and particularly if you do it in such a gutless way as diving and faking - then it is very likely indeed that at some point you will have to pay the piper. This was, apparently, that point.
Here, in case anyone is interested, is my yardstick.
Marty McSorley had his waning career come to a sudden and ignominious end over just such a situation. Donald Brashear - who I wouldn't cross the street to spit on - was the real architect of his own demise in the famous game that McSorley will never be able to live down. First Brashear ran the goalie. The next time McSorley was on against Brashear Marty challenged him to a fight which Brashear appeared to have accepted, even lowering his hands to drop his gloves. When McSorley dropped his gloves, Brashear laughed at him and skated away, leaving McSorley standing alone, gloveless and embarrassed. Marty got a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct or some such thing for overtly attempting to be involved in a fight. While he was in the box, Brashear again ran the goalie - also again with no call for whatever reason - and followed that up by gliding past the penalty box and mocking McSorley. When Marty got out, inexplicably Brashear's coach had him on the ice as well. McSorley challenged him again (which is "the code" for guys who are only on the team to fight, which was often McSorley's role but always Brashear's) and again Brashear laughed and skated away. An enraged McSorley followed Brashear and tried to whack him in the shoulder with his stick. Unfortunately, it bounced up off of Brashear's shoulder and caught him on the tip of the helmet - a glancing blow which caused a cement-head like Brashear no real damage. But Brashear still didn't turn to fight. No, he decided it would be clever to throw his arms up in the air, tossing his stick and gloves away, looking for all the world like he had been shot storming the beaches at Normandy. He flung his head back dramatically, kicked up his feet and hit the ice, prone. The problem is his helmet fit him as well as all NHL helmets fit - which is to say, not at all. It failed to protect him when the back of his head hit the ice and it is precisely at that moment he suffered a mild concussion. However, McSorley was pilloried for having "caused" the concussion and never played again. I'm still waiting for Brashear to have his comeuppance.
The very same comeuppance which I believe visited one Max Pacioretty last night.
Should Chara have done it (if indeed he did)? No. Am I disgusted by the play? Yes. Was it unexpected? Not on your life. And therein lies the true rub when we speak of attempting to rid the NHL of the dangerous head shots that are an epidemic right now: the law of the jungle still applies.
Even in the boardrooms, unfortunately.