NHL violence again takes center stage

Posted March 13, 2011, at 8:38 p.m.

It never goes away. Either the issue is on ice or reverberates off ice like the ripples of the proverbial thrown stone upon the waters.

Violence in hockey goes on and now there is a firestorm surrounding the latest incident of such violence in the NHL.

Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins recently drove Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens into the stanchion at the end of a bench, resulting in a broken vertebra and a reported severe concussion. Chara was penalized in the game, but not suspended by the league.

This comes during a year in which many see the violence trending ever upward. Longtime Sports Illustrated hockey writer Michael Farber wrote before the Chara matter, “… The NHL has descended into the gutter-a refuge of rancor, vitriol and vengeance.”

Mario Lemieux, owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in February spoke after his team was involved in a free-for-all with the Islanders, saying, “It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.  …We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players.”

On March 9, after the Chara incident, Air Canada, a major NHL sponsor, wrote to Commissioner Gary Bettman:

“As a strong supporter and sponsor of NHL Hockey in Canada and several U.S. cities, Air Canada is very concerned with the state of hockey today.  … We are having difficulty rationalizing our sponsorship of hockey unless the NHL takes responsibility to protect both the players and the integrity of the game.  …Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspensions to the players in question to curtail these life threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey.”

Air Canada said it never intended for the letter to become public, but it is.

Ironically, Bettman responded to the letter after a Congressional meeting to discuss how best to promote the growth of youth hockey:  “If they (Air Canada) decide they need to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that’s their prerogative, just like it’s the prerogative of our clubs that fly on Air Canada to make other arrangements if they don’t think Air Canada is giving them the appropriate level of service”

Ouch.

The Montreal police have launched an investigation into the hit by Chara to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

Next month the civil trial date for Todd Bertuzzi is to be announced. He punched player Steve Moore in the head in a game seven years ago resulting in serious injuries, according to Moore who filed a civil suit.

All of this comes with every sport seeking ways to respond to the growing concerns regarding concussions. We now know concussions are cumulative in nature and have far reaching physical and mental implications.

The NHL general managers meet in Florida last week and Bettman is reported to have agreed to place violence and player safety atop the agenda.

Yet, fighting in the NHL goes on and you will hear the always whispered, “It sells tickets.”  That fighting leads to retaliations and that leads to the continued presence of “goons,” even if they are better skating goons in this day and age.

All of which continues the violence in the game.

Air Canada has threatened the wallet. That always grabs the attention of sports owners.  We’ll see if it moves them to act.

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