OTTAWA - It has become an All-Star weekend tradition. Zdeno Chara winds up, shoots, and makes a mockery of a record he once owned.
Last night, during the hardest shot competition at Scotiabank Place, Chara connected with a sizzler that was timed at 108.8 miles per hour. Chara’s previous record was 105.9, which he clocked during last year’s competition in Raleigh, N.C.
“I was kind of surprised myself,’’ Chara said last night. “Before every All-Star hardest shot, I try to do my best and improve. It worked.’’
Once again, Chara squared off against Nashville’s Shea Weber. Chara opened the contest with a 106.2-m.p.h. blast. He set the new standard with his second shot. Weber’s best attempt was his last, at 107.0.
Chara is now a five-time winner of the competition. After the contest, Chara received an ovation in the arena he once called home as a Senator.
“It was great. Very supportive,’’ Chara said. “Very happy they gave me the ovation. A standing ovation is always very much appreciated. I was also glad that I could break the record here in Ottawa. I played here and spent some great years.’’
Marc Savard, a former All-Star, is all but guaranteed to have played his last NHL game. Chris Pronger is out for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, and his career is at risk. Sidney Crosby is attempting his second comeback of the season.
All three, and many more NHLers, have been laid low by concussions. It’s no surprise, then, that the NHL Board of Governors spent part of yesterday’s meeting at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier discussing concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the disease that may have played a part in Derek Boogaard’s spiraling condition.
According to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, more concussions have been reported this season than last year. Bettman did not specify the number of diagnosed concussions.
“The experts believe there may be some reasons [for the rise], including the fact that we are much better in diagnosing and treating them than before,’’ Bettman said.
“We think the culture has changed. I think players are much more comfortable. They’re better educated in understanding the symptoms of concussions. I think we’ve made it so they’re more comfortable in acknowledging they have symptoms.
“The combination of everything we’re doing - including rule changes, equipment, diagnosis - everything is intended to ensure that while there are concussions, we’re treating them better and doing a better job of diagnosing them.’’
According to hockeyfights.com, there have been 322 fights in the NHL this season. If the rate stays the same, there will be a 25 percent decrease from last year. According to Bettman, the league is on pace to have the third-fewest fights in the last 25 seasons.
A career of fighting could have contributed to Boogaard’s CTE, but no final determination has been made.
“People who don’t want fighting want the penalties to be increased because of concussions,’’ Bettman said. “But that’s not where the increase in concussions seems to be coming from.
“It seems to be coming from accidents, teammates colliding and banging their heads, pucks to the head. Whether or not you want stronger penalties for fighting, it’s really separate and apart from the overall concussion issue.
“Obviously there are some concussions caused by fighting, just like there are some concussions caused by getting hit in the head with the puck. But nobody’s thinking of using a foam rubber puck.’’
These days, Brendan Shanahan is the NHL’s chief disciplinarian, aided by ex-NHLers Rob Blake and Stephane Quintal. But Shanahan is also involved in the NHL’s effort, in concert with the NHLPA and equipment manufacturers, to research gear that could lessen the impact of violent hits.
The ultimate goal, Shanahan said, is settling on equipment that promotes absorption, not projection, of energy.
“I know there are some manufacturers coming out with shoulder pads where there’s no hard plastic on any of the projection points,’’ Shanahan said. “They’re smaller-profile so that players don’t have great big, giant, bulging shoulders. It’s not something that’s done quickly.’’
Time for talking
The NHL and NHLPA will begin negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement in the next few weeks.
Some early clouds appeared after the NHLPA declined to approve the NHL’s realignment plan for 2012-13. The new format would have set up four divisions; the Bruins would have had Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, Toronto, Florida, and Tampa Bay in their division.
Bettman said the NHL will not file a grievance regarding the matter. The current format will remain for next season.
“My hope is that we can reason together,’’ Bettman said, “and that collective bargaining will be painless, quiet, and quick. That would serve everybody’s best interests.’’
Next year, Columbus
Yesterday, the NHL announced the 2013 All-Star Game will take place at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. The last major NHL event to be held in Ohio’s capital was the 2007 draft. That year, the Bruins selected Zach Hamill with the eighth overall pick . . . According to Bettman, the league is on track to set attendance and revenue records . . . The NHL awards show will continue to be held in Las Vegas, Bettman announced . . . One of Shanahan’s responsibilities is to star in videos explaining suspensions. In the past month, he has been in front of the camera twice in cases involving the Bruins. Shanahan suspended Brad Marchand for five games for clipping Sami Salo of the Canucks. He laid a three-game whack on Andrew Ference for his boarding penalty on the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh. When asked why he hasn’t released any videos showing legal plays, Shanahan responded with a laugh, “Too busy, man. I could be making videos all day, every day.’’