By Stu Hackel
The fallout from the Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty continued today with two dramatic statements and contrasting views on how the incident was handled.
The first came from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (above) at the Congressional Hockey Caucus briefing on Capitol Hill. Responding to a media question, Bettman said, “Our Hockey Operations people are extraordinarily comfortable with the decision that they made. It was a horrific injury and we’re sorry it happened in our fast-paced, physical game, but I don’t think whether or not supplemental discipline was imposed would have changed what happened. In fact, the people in the game who I have heard from, almost to a person — and I’ll exclude the two clubs involved — believe it was handled appropriately by Hockey Operations.”
Responding to a letter from Denis Vandal, Air Canada’s director of marketing/communications, that expressed serious concern about its continued corporate sponsorship on the NHL in light of the league’s ongoing problem of hits to the head, Bettman said, “Air Canada is a great brand, as is the National Hockey League. And if they decide that they need to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that is their prerogative, just that it is 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.”
This afternoon, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson released a statement saying in part that the team was not supportive of the NHL’s decision, calling it “one which shook the faith that we, as a community, have in this sport that we hold in such high regard.”
Molson’s statement continued: “The Montreal Canadiens organization does not agree with the decision taken yesterday by the National Hockey League. We can assure you that we have made our position clear to Commissioner Gary Bettman, and that he has agreed to make this issue a priority at the next General Managers meeting, which will be held in Florida on March 14-16. Pierre Gauthier, our General Manager, will be present at this meeting and has already expressed his wish to carry out, clearly, our message to his 29 counterparts and to the League.
“Our organization believes that the players’ safety in hockey has become a major concern, and that this situation has reached a point of urgency. At risk are some of the greatest professional athletes in the world, our fan base and the health of our sport at all levels. Players’ safety in hockey must become the ultimate priority and the situation must be addressed immediately. As a proud father of three hockey players, I want to help create a healthy and safe experience for them, and I certainly never want any family to go through what the Paciorettys are experiencing at this moment.
“We understand and appreciate hockey being a physical sport, but we do not accept any violent behavior that will put the players’ health and safety at risk. On this specific issue, I am asking for the support of the 29 other NHL owners, to address urgently this safety issue. And I am willing to play a leadership role in coordinating this group effort.”
Molson began his statement by thanking fans for their support of Pacioretty in his recovery from a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra, and expressed the team’s support as well. He closed by calling on the fans to continue their support of Pacioretty and the team.