A Montreal police investigation into Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has been completed and the file has been transferred to criminal prosecutors, as per standard procedure.
Now that the investigation is over, Crown lawyers must decide whether to lay charges over Chara's devastating hit against Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty last March.
Police had held off interviewing Chara during the spring, while his Bruins were on their Stanley Cup-winning run. Investigators finally questioned him last month and described him as a co-operative witness.
Authorities in Quebec became involved in the file amid a public outcry after the NHL announced it would not suspend Chara for smashing his opponent into a stanchion.
Pacioretty has recovered from a cracked vertebra and concussion, and is expected to return to action next season.
Before the hit, the Habs forward had been involved in a series of skirmishes with Chara in an increasingly bitter rivalry.
Pacioretty later said he was disgusted by the league's failure to suspend Chara, but also added that he disagreed with the decision for law enforcement to get involved. Police began investigating upon a request from Quebec's director of criminal and penal prosecutions.
A lawyer and former university hockey player interviewed Wednesday says he doubts any charges will be laid.
However, Jean-Pierre Rancourt said he would personally favour legal action. He said the prosecution would have a decent case in a trial, perhaps for assault causing bodily harm.
"I would lay charges," he said.
"Chara had to know that his act could result in a serious injury and he still decided to finish his bodycheck."
Rancourt conceded that any Crown case would be difficult. He noted that that prosecutors would be forced to prove Chara's intent to injure, beyond a reasonable doubt; meanwhile, the defendant could simply argue that events transpired too quickly for him to realize the potential ramifications of his act.
He said the Crown would also have to prove the hit went beyond what is the normally accepted level of violence in a hockey game.
Rancourt explained, for instance, that hockey players might accept that they might someday receive a puck shot in the face — but a stick smashed over the head is not expected, and would carry different legal consequences.
Win or lose, though, he said charges laid against Chara would serve some purpose.
"Even if Chara were acquitted, it would show players that they have a responsibility to know what they're doing on the ice and that they can't just do anything they want," he said.
"It's unfortunate, because the NHL isn't taking its responsibilities and is letting these kinds of things slide while players are getting very seriously hurt."