Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Insanity of Intent, the Outrage of Outcome

The NHL has deemed there will be no further discipline meted out to Zdeno Chara for his brutal hit that drove Max Pacioretty into the stanchion of the glass between the benches at the Montreal home game against the Boston Bruins. One can debate the punishment, or lack thereof, until you're blue in the face and can make  arguments for both sides. These arguments, however, are pointless and will continue to be an exercise in futility until the NHL resolves how these hits are fundamentally viewed by the League itself.

The League has placed itself in a no win situation with these types of hits, and subsequently subjects its players to continued peril, by adopting a purely subjective standard called "intent". Furthermore, "outcome" is often used as a measure of determining the type of punishment, if any, that is doled out to a player that executes a borderline or dangerous hit. It is no wonder that we continue to see these types of hits and dangerous play with these nebulous standards in place.

Let's look at intent for a moment. Even the most egregious offenders when it come to dangerous hits, from a tearful Todd Bertuzzi after his hit on Steve Moore or Matt Cooke after his devastating hit on Marc Savard, never say that it was their "intent" to hurt another player. Who is to say, and how is the League to judge, what intent might be in any situation? What happens in that split second on the ice and at top speed is impossible to judge as to intent. When one player has another lined up for what could be a questionable hit, how is the League judging intent? Maybe previous occurrences of reckless behavior? Even that is a poor gauge of intent. Could the player have pulled up? Again, a split second decision in the heat of the moment, and the thought processes are known only to the player.

So how does the League determine intent? I would submit that they cannot, and any attempt to do so is just a wildly speculative guess on their part. Even worse, it establishes such a vague basis for judging these types of hits or plays that it is essentially no standard at all.

Every parent has had the situation with their children where something goes wrong, and one of the first things out their innocent mouths is "I didn't mean to..." We as parents know that judging intent is next to impossible. More often than not, "I didn't mean to" translates into "I didn't think something bad would happen."

What the League is doing with the vague standard of intent is in essence saying "I hope nothing bad happens." That is going to lead to a disastrous outcome on the ice, and is just insane.

For the players that are playing at full speed in an intense game, there have to be clear boundaries. This is never more true when there is the potential for a dangerous hit. Would Chara have pulled off Pacioretty if he knew clearly what the fate was for riding him into the stanchion? I don't know. I do believe that if players had more clearly defined boundaries and consequences for crossing those boundaries, then these types of incidents would occur less frequently.

The other aspect of these types of plays is using the outcome of the hit to determine the severity, if any of the punishment. In a word, this is outrageous. We all have witnessed players that were the victims of dangerous hits who, fortunately were able to get back up. In determining the level of discipline, the League has said something to the effect that "the player wasn't seriously hurt" and that fact mitigated the level of punishment. This standard, in my estimation, continues to invite these types of hits. Run a player and hope he gets up. If he does, you get nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Regardless of outcome, a dangerous hit is a dangerous hit. For the League to fail to acknowledge that and let outcome mitigate the punishment due the offender is taking what should be a hard and fast standard and making it is essence non-existent. A five minute boarding major for one player becomes a multi-game suspension for another player, depending on the extent of any injury. The unequal application of the punishment for the types of hits is obvious. The environment that this creates is unacceptable and is an outrage.

As long as the NHL persists in using these nebulous and subjective standards, we will continue to have these types of hits and the resulting dangerous injuries to players. It is time for the League to get rid of the canard of judging a player's intent and looking to see what damage was done before deciding the level of punishment. For these types of hits to be greatly reduced and player safety improved, the League has to adopt clearly defined standards. More importantly, there has to be a consistent application of those standards, regardless of the offender.

Do this, and you will restore a measure of sanity to the game we all love.


  1. I could not agree with you more, Mark. Terrific post!

  2. I totally agree. I just wish the NHL would listen it is getting way too dangerous out there.