The reason this is treated as topical, as opposed to a well-known, well-understood fact, is that video has surfaced of Mr. Chara, involved in one of those tiresome scrums after the whistle has blown where everyone pushes and slashes each other, that for some reason the NHL tolerates. In this video, Mr. Chara gives a direct, not in any way accidental, punch to Sidney Crosby's jaw. Mr. Crosby, the acknowledged best player in the world, had his jaw shattered earlier in the season courtesy of a teammate's deflected slap shot. He had worn extra facial protection since his comeback, but received permission from his doctors and decided to remove it for the Eastern final. And a dirty, dirty Bruin, the leader of the dirty Bruins in fact, immediately targeted him, in the first game.
This is an intolerable situation. The NHL has to protect its meal ticket, the face of the modern game. It cannot allow less talented players to neutralize, or even worse, attempt to injure its stars with cheap goon tactics.
Why the NHL allows this climate of intimidation and cheap thuggery to be the defining aspect of its sport is baffling. Every other sport is opening up its game, encourage scoring, favouring the skilled stars over the defenders, liberalizing rules to showcase its best performers.
Meanwhile, pro hockey is suffocating under a blanket of unimaginative coaching, of interference tactics, of intimidation of skillful players by lumbering behemoths. Crashing and banging are the most important aspects of NHL hockey in 2013, ahead of passing and shooting top corner, and dekeing the defenceman to go on a breakaway. It's absolute madness, and it's business as usual, somehow.
There will be, at this summer's entry draft and free agency period, a great gold rush for players 6'3" and above, 'character' players who can 'finish their checks' and 'protect their teammates', while players who make plays and actually put pucks in the net will go unclaimed.
It's not even questioned that the Bruins as an organization champion this mindless thuggery. There's no rebuke or opprobrium. They're the Big Bad Bruins, after all. Terry O'Reilly and Stan Jonathan are more celebrated than Phil Esposito. Their carnival barker of a play-by-play announcer, Jack Edwards, shills for his team and distorts facts and bends the truth into a hammerlock until it surrenders, and creates a culture among its fans that intimidation are a valid tactic, central to the sport of hockey. Its coach Claude Julien sees his band of hookers and muckers and grinders as victims of embellishment calls and impressionable referees.
One revolting aspect of this assault, out of many, is that when confronted by Darren Dreger of TSN about this, even when shown the video, Zdeno Chara tried to lie and obfuscate his way out of it. He apparently insisted that since he didn't receive a penalty, the event didn't happen. He even challenged Mr. Dreger to prove that it was his arm delivering the punch, as if it wasn't clear as day that it was.
Such shocking mendacity isn't uncommon to the Bruin's organization, and its band of cheap shot artists. There's Andrew Ference who flipped the bird to the Montréal crowd during the 2011 playoffs, then dissembled to the media after the game, explaining it away as a "glove malfunction", that his middle finger "got caught". It was such a transparent lie that not only he was shamed, but everyone who heard it as well. Still, Greg Campbell's daddy's cronies exonerated him, he escaped suspension, and with him in the lineup, the Bruins eked out the narrowest of victories in Game 7 overtime. A year later, he 'came clean', admitting that what everybody plainly saw was what indeed happened. He couched his belated outbreak of honesty in philosophical terms, stating on his charity/vanity project-blog that personal responsibility and accountability are sorely lacking in the modern world, and he was trying to make amends.
Fast forward to this year's playoffs, and Mr. Ference takes a cheap shot on Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski in Game 1 of the opening round. What does Mr. Accountability do now? Post-game, when questioned about the elbow, he again openly lies, pretending not to know what the reporters were talking about. It was as soul-crushing as when a three-year old lies right to your face, and you know he's lying, it's not that good a lie at all, but the toddler is too dumb and hasn't developed a sense of morality yet, so he sticks to his lie.
There are more lying Bruin thugs. When Milan Lucic intentionally ran Ryan Miller in open ice, giving him a concussion, he gave a ridiculous explanation that he didn't have time to stop, only to brace for impact, which is obviously false when reviewing the video. Surprise, he got away scot-free, the Department of Player Lack of Safety deciding that the two-minute penalty was punishment enough for the remorseless Bruin. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, so it goes.
When Zdeno Chara almost made Max Pacioretty a paraplegic, he then also wouldn't own up to his responsibility, downplaying his assault by saying he didn't know which player he hit, and didn't know the stanchion was there, both egregious lies to avoid suspension by Daddy Campbell. Sure enough, the deliberate, retaliatory assault was deemed a 'hockey play' by the league. Gary Bettman went so far as to say the league was extraordinarily comfortable with the ruling (!)
So a Bruin took a whopper of a cheap shot and went unpunished. And now they're 4 wins away from winning the Stanley Cup again, even though it's meant to be awarded to the best hockey team, not a bunch of brawlers and backstabbers and reprobates. As Lord Stanley wrote when he first thought of bequeathing his Cup:
I have for some time been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion (of Canada). There does not appear to be any such outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held from year to year by the winning team.Yet the Bruins are again slashing and gooning and crosschecking their way ever closer to another Cup.
And the Commissioner, the man entrusted with the safeguarding and stewardship of our national game, is drunk with power at the wheel. When questioned by Dave Nailor of TSN about the state of refereeing, he exclaimed that it had been "remarkably consistent". Sure, he continued, the game is played at breakneck speeds, so they'll miss calls, but those will even out between the teams.
Which proves that he doesn't watch a lot of hockey, and has even less knowledge. The only thing consistent about the refereeing is that it has ceased occurring. They have abdicated their responsibility. They're like substitute teachers who have made a couple of meek attempts to inculcate their students, but faced with resistance, now have their feet up on their desk and are running out the clock on the period or week, while their charges are going at each other Lord-of-the-Flies style.
Next week, when the American sports shows recap the weekend's events, shows like "Pardon the Interruption" and "Around the Horn", you can bet that they'll be replaying the Chara punch, not any slick play by Patrick Kane or Patrice Bergeron. And that's where the league has arrived, with Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell at the helm. Yet they'll crow about increased ratings and revenue, and state that the game is healthier than ever.
They've stifled the game, weighted it down, it's only due to external factors that are causing all sports properties to skyrocket in value that the NHL doesn't succumb to the many injuries perpetrated on it.
The NHL had a Wayne Gretzky-Mario Lemieux Golden Age that it failed to capitalize on. While the NFL rode Dan Marino, Joe Montana and John Elway to absurd growth and success. And while the NBA marketed Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson to explode onto the public's consciousness, and obsessively nurtured the legend of Michael Jordan, like Gollum with his Precious, the NHL allowed Mike Hough and the Sutters to hook and slash Mario until he couldn't take it anymore. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan couldn't be breathed on by an opponent without a foul being called, to the delight of fans, video games players, movie goers...
The NHL is currently wasting what should be another Golden Age, that of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, the Sedin brothers, they should be playing the roles of Peter Stasny and Dale Hawerchuk, amassing 130 point seasons while they try to keep up to the two superstars. Instead, we live in the Age of Brian Bickell and Chris Neil.
So. We have proof of a repeat offender deliberately punching the best player in the world, intentionally, on his injured jaw, to cause pain and possibly knock him out of the series. And the NHL will not do anything about it.
Shame on you Gary Bettman. Shame on you, National Hockey League.