The NHL is facing a crisis that has no easy answers
Christopher D. Pike | March 15, 2011
The game of hockey is entering a dangerous and disturbing world of debate and distrust. The game has changed and the new NHL has many questions with few answers. Hits to the head are becoming a nightly occurrence around the league and the consequences are becoming overwhelming for the players and the NHL. The Chara hit on Pacioretty has added fire to a debate that has been dominating the NHL for the past few years.
Everyone has there opinion regarding this devastating hit but the question still remains. How can the NHL protect its players and its brand without destroying the game? If you take a poll of 1000 hockey fans and players around the league you will probably have a 50/50 split on the intention surrounding this hit and the NHL's decision not to suspend Zdeno Chara.
While Chara is the only person that truly knows his intent we can all understand the severity of such a devastating and gut wrenching hockey play. There are many people around the league that are certain Chara was targeting the head of Pacioretty. Even Pacioretty himself believes Chara intended to harm him in a vulnerable position. It might come back to a previous game when Pacioretty pushed Chara from behind after scoring a game winning goal.
The media hype around this incident has been intense. Having an open dialogue regarding the safety of the players is always a good thing. It can create new rules and safer work environments. However the response from some has been a little disturbing. Calling 911 from the stands was irresponsible and a police investigation was only created by the influences of the community that surrounds the Habs.
Hockey doesn't have the same rules for fights and aggressive behavior as the society we live in. The response from Air Canada was out of line. I can understand the concern but if Chara had rubbed Phaneuf into the stanchion would this statement have been released? Is it a coincidence that they are based in Montreal. Does sponsorship in the NHL give you a right to attempt to police the game. To understand the game you must live in the game. It might look easy from a corporate jet but solving this problem cannot happen overnight.
The solution to the biggest problem surrounding the NHL has no easy answers. You can change the culture of the game but this means a new game must be developed. The NHL has made many rule changes over the years that have created a new style of hockey. Making the game faster has created new problems for players. Trying to eliminate clutching and grabbing has made the game faster but has intensified the severity of dangerous hockey plays. Every hit has bad intentions.
The mentality of all players needs to change. Can the NHL accomplish this without harming the game. Automatic suspensions and fines for certain major penalties or a 2 minute penalty for any shoulder hit to the head are two theories. Could suspensions be more severe? Can the NHL incorporate a 3 strike policy that would see a player sit for an entire season? The answers are not easy but the evolution of hockey needs to protect its players and the players need to protect each other.
The hockey world might be divided regarding this hit but all players and fans agree that something needs to be done. Hockey is a violent and physical sport. It's what makes our game original. Unless you ban physicality in the game, every player is vulnerable when they hit the ice. If you choose to play hockey at a professional level you must be aware of the dangers that surround your decision. However you should always feel safe in your working environment.
The Pacioretty hit has created a spotlight that now shines brightly on arenas around the NHL and other rinks across the world. The Pacioretty hit was more about workplace safety then a dirty hit but the intention we will never know. Hockey plays like this one happen every night in similar areas on the ice and it is considered a good hockey play. The safety of the players should not stop with suspensions but should continue with hockey equipment and the rinks themselves.