NHL has awkward decision to make after Zdeno Chara’s wicked hit on Max Pacioretty

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By now you’ve seen and heard about the terrifying incident in last night’s Bruins-Canadiens game that saw Bruins captain Zdeno Chara wipe out Montreal’s Max Pacioretty with a hit along the boards that saw Pacioretty slam his head into the stanchion separating the the benches.

Pacioretty was removed from the ice on a stretcher after lying motionless on the ice for minutes and taken to the hospital for observation. According to the Canadiens, Pacioretty is conscious and moving his arms and legs. Chara was kicked out of the game and given a five-minute major for interference for the hit.

Chara spoke with the media afterward to explain his role in this ugly incident and CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty notes from Chara that he didn’t have any intention of hurting Pacioretty on the play.

“It wasn’t my intention to push him into the post. It’s very unfortunate. In that situation things are moving fast and I’m not planning to do that. It’s not my style to hurt somebody. I always play hard and I play physical. But I never try to hurt anybody. I’m hoping he’s okay.”

Just moments before that, however, in Chara’s efforts to try and explain how he saw the play, Canadiens blog All Habs has audio from Chara in which his explanation of how things went down doesn’t totally jive with how the play appeared on video. Keep in mind this quote comes just before he made the above statement.

“As the puck went by I was riding him out and it was very unfortunate that at the same time I pushed him a little bit he kind of leaned and jumped a little bit and hit the glass extension. So it’s very unfortunate…. I know we were somewhere close to our bench but obviously it wasn’t my intention to put him into the post.”

Chara is wrong about what he thinks Pacioretty did on the play. You can see the video in our post from last night.

In this explanation from Chara and in the repeated viewing of the video is where Mike Murphy’s job in deciding whether or not to hand out punishment for Chara becomes very tricky. Murphy gets the unfortunate job of doing this because Colin Campbell must recuse himself from matters involving the Bruins thanks to his son Greg playing for them.

What Murphy has to decide is if Chara had the intention of hurting Pacioretty. Given how Chara sounds in his explanation and his history of not consistently running afoul of the rules of the game, we’re sure that he’s sorry for how injured Pacioretty was on the play. After all, seeing a fellow player get so graphically injured is tough for anyone that makes a living playing hockey to watch because someday it could be them in that position.

What makes this awkward is that Chara and Pacioretty have a history dating back to their game on January 8 that saw Pacioretty score the game-winning goal in overtime and then get into a scuffle with Chara after that when Chara felt wronged by Pacioretty for a slight shove from behind while celebrating the goal. Chara went ballistic trying to get after Pacioretty before the scene calmed down.

Players remember these sorts of things, and when watching that play from last night’s game unfold again and again on video it sticks out in your mind. Call me a cynic if you wish but when Chara was racing after that puck with Pacioretty and riding him along the boards it’s tough for me to think that Chara didn’t know full well what he wanted to do there.

I’m not saying that Chara intended to have Pacioretty’s head slam into that stanchion in such a horrifying manner, but we’ve seen hits a thousand times where players get hit and rode along the rail like that and get crunched. Nine times out of ten it’s a body blow that knocks the wind out of the guy and they learn a very hard lesson. Last night was that one time where something goes wrong enough and the end result is a player going to the hospital.

Given the location of the play, the familiarity of the surroundings, and that nagging history it’s difficult for me to accept that Chara handled that play completely accidentally. He wanted Pacioretty to take a hard hit but not for a second do I believe he wanted him to end up unconscious on the ice with a horrifying blow to the head.

Does that make the situation better? No, it’s ugly all around no matter what kind of spin you want to put on it. The hit was away from the puck, it was late, and it was most certainly needless. Those kinds of questionable hits happen all over the ice in heated rivalry games like this. This time around, however, everything went wrong.

It’s wrong for Pacioretty because he had his health put in danger during the heat of battle. It’s wrong for Chara because he’s a mostly clean player that plays a very physical game and he’s a team captain that should know better. It’s wrong for the league now because they’re put in the unenviable position of trying to decide whether or not there was evil in the heart of Zdeno Chara.

The league is most certainly going to make someone mad as Bruins fans say it’s just an unlucky play while Habs fans want Chara’s head on a pike to serve as an example to the rest of the league. TSN’s Bob McKenzie says that the league’s best way of handling this is to play the role of King Solomon and split the difference somehow. With the league’s new dedication to protecting players hit in the head, their ruling on this one will be fascinating to see.

Chara’s at fault here for being reckless and whether he meant to get Pacioretty roughed up or not, he’s got a responsibility to adhere to as a player. You can play hard and physical without putting another player in danger like that and that’s something the league has to recognize here.

Laraque, Okposo, others discuss Trump, national anthem protests

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We’ve already seen some reactions to Donald Trump’s comments about NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ controversial decision to accept a White House visit.

As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski notes, 93 percent of NHL players identify as white. While it’s interesting to hear from the likes of Auston Matthews and Blake Wheeler, what about hockey players who are more directly affected?

Plenty of interesting perspectives came through on Tuesday, so let’s consider some of the more fascinating reactions.

Georges Laraque disapproves of Penguins’ visit

Laraque, a black former NHL player and Montreal native, made it clear that he doesn’t agree with the Penguins’ decision, as he told the Canadian Press.

“I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” Laraque said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.”

He also shared this slightly profane tweet on the matter.

Josh Ho-Sang is inspired by the protests

New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang provided an interesting take to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, and also reminded observes that, as an international sport, the NHL features some players who might not feel as invested in (or at least as informed about) these debates.

“I think what the NFL players are doing is amazing. It’s good that they’re all sticking together,” Ho-Sang said on Monday. “I mean, I’m Canadian, so I don’t have too much input on the matter itself. It will affect me living in the States, but the biggest thing is it’s unfortunate that the message may have gotten lost a little. Now it’s becoming a battle between the NFL and the president and originally [the protests] started because of police brutality and the mistreatment of different races.”

Kyle Okposo doesn’t plan on kneeling, but supports the right to do so

While Ho-Sang and Laraque shared interesting insights as Canadians, Kyle Okposo is a black NHL forward hailing from Minnesota (he was the first black player in Golden Gophers history).

Like Ho-Sang, Okposo (pictured) was supportive of people making demonstrations. That said, he doesn’t expect to do so himself, as he told the Buffalo News’ John Vogl.

“Protecting the First Amendment is a huge thing,” Okposo said. “I’m a proud American, and I’m proud to be from the United States. Myself personally, I wouldn’t kneel for an anthem, but I respect those that do.”

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This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the current political climate affect NHL players or people they know.

Back in January, New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad, was “confused” by that iteration of a travel ban, as the Swedish forward had family living in Iran.

Players in plenty of sports are navigating tough questions this week. It’s important to remember that athletes can find themselves in tough spots when addressing topics that can be polarizing and/or complex.

Laraque stated that hockey is more “conservative than other sports,” so it seems like a good time to read up on the culture of this sport.

With the regular season about to kick into gear on Oct. 4, it’s certain that there will be more eyes on anthems than ever before. The insights in this post should be useful, whether NHL players kneel, sit, speak, or decide to stick to hockey.

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.