Reports are coming in today that Air Canada is considering withdrawing its sponsorship of the NHL in the wake of Zedeno Chara’s questionable hit on Max Pacioretty. Here is the reality of the NHL’s irresponsibility when it comes to preventing injury and, failing that, punishing behavior which could cause it. The hit itself is an issue of contention. Chara was not suspended yet Pacioretty is in the hospital. There is a disconnect here. I don’t think the hit on it’s own deserved a suspension. If that hit takes place essentially anywhere else on the ice it’s a nothing play and nothing comes of it. However, it didn’t, and this goes back to my take on head injuries from last week.
The NHL has to bite the bullet and suspend players in this kind of situation. There must be punishment when a player does something that causes injury,especially to the head. Intent has nothing to do with the equation. I don’t think Chara meant to hurt him. I think he was just trying to push him off his stride. The glass between the two benches has been removed from most arenas in the league so I doubt Chara fully processed that they were even there. The reality though is that Chara’s actions caused a major injury. If you crash your car into someone the defense of “I didn’t mean to do it” is laughable to a judge or anyone really. Why is that ok in the NHL? If the NHL came down with a suspension on Chara other players would think before they make a play in the “danger areas” at the end of the benches and, in some arenas, between. Players need to realize that they will be fully accountable for their actions on the ice.
The Air Canada situation is very troubling for the NHL. I don’t believe that Air Canada will pull out tomorrow. But they clearly have concerns over associating themselves with the current image of the NHL. Air Canada removing their sponsorship money could be an utter disaster. They sponsor the rink in Toronto, the world`s most fervent hockey market. If they are considering walking away from that kind of exposure, they must mean business. Air Canada taking their money elsewhere could cause other companies to follow suit, especially in the US where there is less tolerance to the ugly side of hockey. Moreover, few Canadian companies have the funds to fill the niche which Air Canada is considering vacating. This could be hugely problematic for the NHL.
The NHL needs to step up. It`s too late to do anything about this particlar issue but future hits like this need to be dealt with more severely. If the league is unwilling to change the culture on the ice the potential consequences have never been more clear.