Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
One of the best movies of the late 1980s, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is Woody Allen's masterful take on how human beings can will themselves to live with tremendous amounts of guilt.
In the film, a character played by Martin Landau gets away with murder in a legal sense, but he finds the hardest part is coming to terms with the mental anguish that goes along with such an unspeakable act.
It was the NHL's latest firestorm that got me thinking about Allen's dark comedy. After all, there has been a great debate on crime and punishment in the world of hockey, an argument that was prompted by a controversial check from Boston's Zdeno Chara.
Chara set into motion a violent collision at the Bell Centre on Tuesday that resulted in Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty sustaining a severe concussion and cracked vertebra. It's too early to tell if Pacioretty will be able to return this season or how his career will be affected by the hit, but one hopes the young winger will make a full recovery.
The hit was controversial enough, but a surprising ruling made by the NHL the day after the incident has thrown additional gasoline on the fire.
Although the Bruins' captain was assessed a five minute major for interference and a game misconduct, the NHL decided that no suspension or fine was in order for Chara's role in the collision. That decision has understandably, and predictably, drawn the ire of hockey fans everywhere, especially those in Montreal.
Now, the latest news out of Canada is that a Quebec prosecutor has asked the Montreal police to investigate the matter criminally, an announcement that could stir up emotions to an even greater degree.
As gruesome as the play is to watch, there is really no way of determining Zdeno Chara's intent.
But, with all the drama surrounding this event it is important that we keep the facts straight and try to avoid getting carried away with circumstantial evidence.
What happened to Pacioretty was horrifying to watch and he deserves justice, but that doesn't mean we should let emotions decide a matter that deserves a serious analysis of the video evidence.
We can see that Chara clearly committed an interference penalty on the play, as he took the body on Pacioretty long after the puck was gone. We also know that Chara's late hit directly resulted in Pacioretty's head getting slammed into the stanchion at the end of the visitors bench, causing the serious injuries to the 22-year-old American.
But, as gruesome as the play is to watch there is really no way of determining Chara's intent.
The fact that Pacioretty and Chara were involved in a scuffle after the former player scored an overtime game-winner when the bitter rivals met on Jan. 8 doesn't change anything either. It's possible that Chara was carrying out some sort of sadistic revenge plan, but proving such a serious accusation seems futile when all we have to go on is what actually happened on the ice.
Still, the NHL did not need to prove intent in order to suspend Chara for the hit, they could have found the big defenseman guilty of at least being careless and handed him a four or five-game ban.
The league's senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy, who issued the statement on Wednesday that announced Chara would not be suspended, had to know on some level that his decision would be unpopular. Like all pro sport leagues these days, the NHL is often criticized for the way it addresses the hot-button issue of concussions and Murphy had to know that not suspending Chara would be taken by many folks to mean that he wasn't taking the issue of head injuries seriously.
Still, Murphy's statement offers an honest assessment of the video evidence and is not colored by emotions.
"I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous," Murphy said.
This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface."
Murphy also added that Chara has never been suspended during his 13-year career, as repeat offender status always factors heavily in the NHL's decisions in these types of matters. It was a bold move to not ban Chara for at least a few games, but the league deserves some credit for sticking to its guns on this one.
Unless Chara offers an admission of guilt, we have to come to terms with the unpleasant notion that what happened to Pacioretty was likely an accident. As it stands, whether Chara acted in malice is simply impossible to prove, or disprove, for that matter.
Much like Landau's character in "Crimes and Misdemeanors", if Chara did intentionally hurt Pacioretty, then the only punishment he will likely face is coming to terms with his own conscience.
Not exactly a comforting scenario, but perhaps it's one that can help us take something positive out of a bad situation.
Perhaps, we should move past trying to assign total blame for Pacioretty's injury on Chara. Maybe instead we should devote more time to figuring out if there is a way to make that area of NHL rinks safer, so that the next time a player hits that stanchion there is a better chance of escaping serious injury.