A Shot to the Head

Law and logic are often antagonistic bedfellows. Nowhere is this more evident than in the spasmodic contortions of the NHL relating to head shots. Sadly, the big brain hockey pundits seem to have taken a few too many to the noggin to make any sense of the issue. Hence, the introduction of the slippery concept of  “a hockey play”.

Here’s how it lays out in the recent Chara on Pacioretty annihilation: The puck squirted past Chara down ice. Pacioretty gave chase. The puck being a good 40 or 50 feet past both players, Chara pasted Pacioretty into a stanchion rather violently. Leaving aside what to my eye was an obvious elbow to the head, it was a clear and gross interference call, for which he was assessed a major penalty.

The “hockey play” justification has been used as an explanation (of sorts) for why he wasn’t assessed a suspension for potentially ending Pacioretty’s career; something along the lines of “hard nose hockey/heat of battle/stuff happens”. When you actually try to firm up a definition of how “hockey play” justifies or explains anything, you find you’re dealing with vapour.

If you were driving your car at 50 or 60 kilometers over the speed limit and ended up killing someone, there would be no “driving play” exemption based on lack of intent (to injure) or “just driving fast”. This is because, in criminal law, if you’re doing something illegal in the first place, then you end up escalating the problem by wreaking a lot more havoc than you intended, most of the time, you pay the higher, rather than lower, tariff.

The NHL could take a page from this law book (and principle): Get caught seriously (or not even particularly so) injuring another player in the course of some other rules infraction? Fine, the onus shifts to you to explain/justify/rationalize the conduct. In the meantime, you sit. (Oh, and no “hockey play” explanations allowed.)

I have little doubt that Pacioretty’s lawyers in any suit for damages will make short work of the old “hockey play” defence by Mr. Chara. As well they should.

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