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Prosecuting Chara could create a far-reaching precedent for NHL

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  March 15, 2011 10:00 AM

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The legal fallout from Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara's crippling hit on Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens may end up having far-reaching repercussions for the NHL and force the league to curtail fighting, according to an analysis by columnist Michael McCann.

In the wake of the March 8 incident, which left Pacioretty with a severe concussion and cracked vertebra, the Globe editorial page called on the NHL to take more responsibility for ending on-ice violence.

Indulging childish behavior has been quite profitable for professional hockey, though, and past efforts to outlaw fighting have fizzled.

But McCann, a Vermont Law School professor and sports law columnist for SI.com, writes that if Chara ends up facing charges in Quebec, the league and its players may have no choice but to crack down on fighting and aggressive hits.

Hockey players have faced criminal charges for on-ice violence before. But they've typically stemmed from much more extreme incidents that also merited punishment from the league.

Chara's hit, on the other hand, was viewed as so acceptable that the league declined to suspend him for it. And if that play is ruled a criminal offense in the Canadian legal system, McCann writes, the whole game may need to change:

I think if Chara can be prosecuted for what he did, then the NHL might have to change their rules on physical contact — and maybe that would be a good thing, but that would have to be debated. We might also see NHL players, cognizant of legal consequences for inflicting physical contact on other players, adopting a less physical style of play, with less checking and less fighting.

Reuters photo: Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara hits Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty into a glass stanchion during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal on March 8, a play that left Pacioretty severely injured.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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