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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty is just part of hockey. ((Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press) )

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says there's no need to "over-legislate" head hits.

Speaking after a U.S. congressional panel discussion Thursday on encouraging American kids to get into hockey, Bettman pointed to a trend this season.

"What's interesting ... is that the rise in concussions in the preliminary data from this season seem to be coming from accident events, collisions, players falling and banging into other things, not from head hits," he told reporters.

Thursday's developments

A summary of the day's happenings in the Chara-Pacioretty controversy:

  • Quebec's director of criminal and penal prosecutions requests police investigation into Chara; Montreal police announce they've opened criminal investigation.
  • Air Canada confirms it sent letter to NHL threatening to withdraw sponsorship unless league moves to reduce injuries.
  • Other sponsors — including Tim Hortons, which has seen spokesman Sidney Crosby sidelined by concussion — follow with statements.
  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's concerned about growing number of major injuries in NHL.
  • Chara speaks to reporters in Boston: "I know, deep down, I did not do it intentionally."
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defends league's decision not to suspend Chara; also brushes aside Air Canada's financial threat.
  • Habs chairman Geoff Molson issues a public letter expressing "frustration, disappointment and shock"; says Bettman has agreed to make safety a priority at next week's league meetings.
  • NHLPA says it will inspect rink in Montreal "and elsewhere as needed, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place."
  • Pacioretty released from hospital.

The issue has been front and centre this season, especially this week in the wake of Max Pacioretty being hospitalized with a severe concussion and fractured vertebra. The Montreal forward was slammed into a stanchion holding the glass at the Bell Centre on a hit by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

Pacioretty was released from hospital Thursday and was resting at home, according to his agent. He is expected to be out indefinitely.

"I sincerely appreciate all of the support that I have received since my injury," Pacioretty said in a statement. "I was disappointed that the NHL did not suspend Zdeno Chara. However, I have no desire for him to prosecuted legally. I feel that the incident, as ugly as it was, was part of a hockey game.

"I understand that this is not my decision. I have respect and admiration for the authorities in Quebec. I simply wanted to make my opinion clear."

The NHL elected not to suspend Chara.

"Our hockey operations people are extraordinarily comfortable with the decision that they made," Bettman said.

"It was a horrific injury, we're sorry that it happened in our fast-paced physical game, but I don't think whether or not supplemental discipline was imposed would change what happened and in fact the people in the game who I have heard from almost to a person ... believe that it was handled appropriately by hockey operations."

NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr also issued a statement Thursday, calling for improved safety measures at the league's arenas.

"Player safety has always been, and continues to be, a great concern to the Players' Association," Fehr said in the statement. 

"In that regard, issues involving the boards and glass in NHL arenas have been a longstanding focus for the players. The serious nature of the injury suffered by Max Pacioretty in Montreal this week reinforces the importance of maximizing the safety in this area and highlights the need to look further into the matter.

"We will be inspecting the rink in Montreal, and elsewhere as needed, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place. We will continue to gather feedback from the membership, to ensure the safest possible work environment for our players."

As for Air Canada threatening to pull its sponsorship over such injuries, Bettman said the league can find other carriers if Air Canada doesn't want the NHL's business. 

"Air Canada is a great brand, as is the National Hockey League," Bettman stated. "Should they decide that they need to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that's their prerogative, just like it's the prerogative of our clubs that fly Air Canada to make other arrangements if they don't think Air Canada is giving them the appropriate level of service." 

Headshots will be raised at meeting

Bettman hinted that the issue of headshots will be among the variety of topics that will be brought up at the upcoming GM meetings next week.

Geoff Molson, the president and CEO of the Canadiens, released a letter to fans through the media not long after Bettman's public comments on Thursday, calling the NHL decision not to suspend Chara "a hard blow" for the team.

Molson said he shared the frustration, disappointment and shock of the team's fans.

"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 Manager’s meeting, which will be held in Florida on March 14-16," said Molson. "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."

The Canadiens return to action Thursday in St. Louis.

Players on Twitter

Current and former NHL players weigh in on Chara/Pacioretty incident

  • Commie 22 (Mike Commodore) The Montreal police are looking into the Chara hit??? Wow.
  • GeorgesLaraque After hearing from Max Pacioretty that Chara was holding him down and Max couldn't get out of the way, it changes everything, bad ruling!
  • JVReemer21 (James van Riemsdyk) Thoughts and prayers with Patch, hopefully he has a speedy recovery
  • Jeremy_Roenick Injuries will always occur in contact sports, especially when parts of the playing surface cause the worst of the damage, so who's at fault!
  • Jeremy_Roenick I like Chara & I like Pacioretty. Neither of them deserve to be in such a tough situation! Truth is hockey's a brutal contact sport
  • Lputi17 (Luca Caputi) Wishing Max Pacioretty a speedy recovery. As per the hit, I don't think it was intentional but I'm not payed to make that decision
  • Mikezigomanis (Mike Zigomanis) I don't think #chara was trying to injure, the hit wasn't malicious, I just think players intentions need to be better #nhl #Canadians #bruins
  • Dbrassard16 (Derrick Brassard) Hope that pacioretty is okay, kinda of scary!!
  • BComptonNHL (Brian Compton, deputy managing editor, nhl.com) Waiting for Montreal police to press charges against D.C. for stealing the Expos