Daily Hab-it: It's time to listen
Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty is hit by Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara during second period NHL hockey action Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
By Arpon Basu
Published Monday, March 14, 2011 1:18AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:10AM EDT
It's been an emotional week in Montreal in the wake of what happened to Max Pacioretty, and what didn't happen to Zdeno Chara.
As a result, I feel a divide has formed between two camps in the debate about the game in general that has ensued out of that hit and the devastating result of it. It's a divide that has grown so deep so fast, that you can't help but feel those entrenched in either camp are starting to take it personally.
But ultimately, is debate not a great precursor for change? For improvement? For self-reflection?
Except in Montreal, as far as I can tell, the debate is not so much an exchange of ideas as it is trench warfare, with the city and the Canadiens greater fan base appearing to take a stance that says either you're with us, or you're against us. And to be "with us," it seems you have to believe that Chara was fully conscious of what he was doing and executed his plan perfectly.
On the flip side, the impression some of the more ardent supporters of the Chara decision are giving off is that this is a case of Montreal being too big for its britches and driving an issue that wouldn't be one if it had happened elsewhere. They are bringing up arguments that really shouldn't apply, such as a hit from behind Pacioretty laid earlier this season against Islanders defenceman Mark Eaton that got him kicked out of a game, as if that has any relevance at all, or a hit laid by Guillaume Latendresse more than four years ago that sadly ended Rob DiMaio's career but didn't trigger the outcry over player safety we are seeing today.
Drowning in grey
The black and white direction the debate has taken over the week is dangerous because of the utter, multi-faceted greyness of what we are dealing with.
When NHLPA head Donald Fehr released a statement focusing on the stanchion that inflicted the damage rather than the person who made that stanchion so dangerous, he was slammed in Montreal for missing the point. Except he didn't miss the point, he simply raised another one, one that is valid to the discussion.
Ron Wilson made a goofy comparison between the hit and someone shooting a puck at someone's head and was slammed for it in Montreal. Except the underlying point he was trying to make, even though he went about it ungracefully, was that the horrifying sight of Pacioretty laying motionless on the ice could potentially cloud some people's judgment here and that it would be wrong to rush towards a rule change based solely on that sickening feeling. That, like it or not, is a valid point.
Then there's Don Cherry, who obviously doesn't have many fans in this city to begin with, who was slammed for noting the Bell Centre is notorious for its rock hard seamless glass that lends itself to shoulder injuries and concussions. It's something that has been talked about for years by players but which has not changed. It's not a stretch to say that Latendresse hit on DiMaio was made much worse by that glass, and that it might very well have been the determining factor in the severity of the injury.
I remember talking to Mike Cammalleri about the glass earlier this season when he was asked by someone if it was the worst in the league. He quickly said yes, then to confirm what he was saying asked a teammate (I don't remember who) and got the same answer. In a discussion about player safety, it's a valid point, even if it's not the current focal point.
And finally, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be slammed simply for writing this and finding some merit in opposing viewpoints – basically, for being "against us."
GMs have a lot on their plate
But the fact is, both sides of this debate are raising many valid points that need to be considered when attempting to find a solution, or even ascertaining the existence of a problem.
I don't envy the league's 30 general managers who are meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., starting Monday. It's the second straight year there's been a high-profile act of mind-numbing violence on the ice in the week preceding the spring meetings, with Matt Cooke's blindside hit on Marc Savard coming one year plus a day prior to Chara's hit on Pacioretty.
The general managers acted immediately and decisively on that Cooke hit, plus one by Mike Richards on David Booth earlier in the season, to draft what we now know as Rule 48 – the blindside head shot rule.
To react in such a way was considerably easier than it will be with the Chara-Pacioretty incident, because the consensus was clear that what Cooke and Richards did was wrong and that it needed to be eliminated from the game. There is nothing approaching a consensus when it comes to what happened Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, and I'd imagine the polarized opinions of the general public will be reflected somewhat in that meeting room in Boca Raton.
I just hope the general managers on either side of the opinion divide do a better job of listening to each other than we've seen from fans and media so far.
For the good of the game, it's what needs to happen.