There is one glaring omission from all this headshot talk and focus on dirty or dangerous play, and that is the root cause of it all. (Actually, there are two things missing, but I already dealt with getting teams to combat it via touching their salary cap.) We hear all the buzzwords thrown around ad nauseam, terms like headshot, unsuspecting player, hit from behind, intent, routine hockey play, accidental contact, etc. etc. But do you know what we never hear? “Respect“.
Headshots, hits from behind, unsuspecting blows, blows to the head… these are all merely symptoms. The breakdown of player respect is the dangerous ailment.
Maybe Aretha Franklin can help launch an awareness campaign focused on how players seem to have no respect for one another in today’s game. Perhaps Steve Moore, Marc Savard, David Booth, Keith Primeau, Eric Lindros and a handful of other affected players can then be enlisted to inject this message deep into the psyche of the NHLPA and its members. Currently in their Code of Professional Conduct are 9 clauses related to privacy, maintaining bargaining leverage, paying of dues, etc. and not a single item related to maintaining the safety of its own members (see below excerpt from NHLPA Constitution).
Did Zdeno Chara intend to injure Max Pacioretty? Well, we know that he certainly wanted to leave some sort of mark- as he did when he slashed and jabbed at Pacioretty in their previous game, and as Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton did with a few minutes left after seemingly missing an earlier portion of the game that tamed, if not stunned, everyone else in the building including their own teammates.
Let’s for a moment accept Chara’s explanation that it was an unfortunate accident and that he had no intent to injure. Unfortunately, that only addresses his actions at the moment Pacioretty’s head made contact with the divider. What about a second or two earlier when he had the player within grasp and had achieved the goal of slowing him down in order to prevent a potential rush up ice? (see Lady Loves Hockey‘s frame breakdown) Had there been an adequate level of respect for his fellow player, he would have either held up, let go, stuck his stick between the player’s legs to trip him up, or just leaned on him so that he’d fall down and not get up ice to chase the puck. But that player respect was not present, so the unfortunate accident was able to come to fruition.
What’s sad to me is that the NHLPA will step up and join every single player at their disciplinary hearing with league officials, will jump up to appeal fines and suspensions, and will argue against any type of penalty that affects their members. Do those elements impact their members more than a career and life threatening hit? I don’t know enough about the NHLPA structure to understand their financing and sacred cows, but it would seem obvious that protecting a player’s career and life comes before protecting $15,000 from their pocket or 5 games from their schedule.
The irony here is that in the day and age before widespread free agency, when players remained with the same teammates for most of their careers and never got a chance to play or connect with most other league players, the respect between them all seems to have been higher. If you disagree with this point as Eliotte Friedman does (“the respect issue is overblown”) then at least agree that today’s speed, size, and equipment make any lack of respect far more evident and impactful- and that calls for the NHLPA members to up their respectful caution to balance it. I’m at a loss as to why we don’t see that, and just hope that contracts and money have nothing to do with it, and that short-term gains haven’t trumped the far older human characteristic of respect for mankind.