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The NHL suspended Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith on Friday for his intentional stick-whack to the face of Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild. We figured “rest of the regular season” would have sufficed; that the NHL Department of Player Safety gave him an additional playoff game was commendable.
Or condemnable, as it were.
The reactions were, by and large, that it should have cut deeper. Why just one playoff game? Why not three? Why not send a message that regular-season games don’t send?
The outrage is understandable, given the intentional nature of the offense and the fact it involved – let’s face it – a weapon. Plus, this wasn’t the first time Keith used said weapon or did something heinous as retribution for a previous play.
But the outrage lacks an appreciate for context, with regard to how the Department of Player Safety has ruled for the last few seasons. Which is another way of saying that it’s a pretty severe punishment, given that context, and these are the parameters through which the NHL hands out suspensions.
First of all, the Chris Simon comparisons don’t apply. That’s pre-Player Safety, Colin Campbell justice. And that was a baseball swing.
Let’s also dispel the notion that five regular season games are a weightless part of this suspension, and that only the playoff game matters. It’s not DoPS’s fault that the Blackhawks are locked into their playoff seed, or that there are only five games left in the season. Five games is a hefty suspension in December or January.
(Although the idea that really terrible acts that earn large suspensions should have some kind of playoff implications is one worth debating down the line.)
Taken within the context of the NHL’s Player Safety rulings, they threw the book at Keith.
Outside of the Dennis Wideman suspension, Keith has the longest suspension this season, with Zac Rinaldo’s five-game ban for his head-shot on Cedric Paquette second-highest. Rinaldo, you’ll recall, was suspended eight games in Jan. 2015.
Speaking of which: Only Rinaldo had a longer suspension than Keith’s in 2014-15, and Keith’s matched that of Dan Carcillo (six games) for his cross-check on Mathieu Perreault. (Carcillo, you’ll recall, was suspended 10 games in May 2014 for abuse of an official, which was reduced to six games. This wasn’t a Player Safety issue, however.)
Keith’s suspension was longer than every one in the 2013-14 season except for Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke’s kneeing on Tyson Barrie – seven playoff games after taking him out of the playoffs for the Avs – and John Scott – seven games for taking out Loui Eriksson with a head shot – and Zack Kassian for high-sticking Sam Gagner.
Now, that eight-game suspension for Kassian has been used as a point of comparison for Keith’s, as he recklessly whacked Gagner in the face with his stick. But please recall those were three preseason games – weightless exhibition games – and five regular-season games. So, in essence, Keith’s was the more emphatic punishment.
In 2012-13, Raffi Torres was given “the remainder of the playoffs” for hitting Jarret Stoll (six games), which of course came a year after he was suspended indefinitely for putting Marian Hossa on a stretcher. But Keith has a larger suspension now than any other player did in 2012-13.
So going back to 2012, Duncan Keith’s suspension ranks among the longest in the NHL. And Coyle, let’s remember, wasn’t significantly injured on the play, unlike in some of these other situations.
Ever since it was founded under Brendan Shanahan, the Department of Player Safety’s previous rulings have acted as a guide to future ones, but they can also handcuff them. If you wanted 10 games for Keith, well, you weren’t going to get it – that would have significantly raised the bar for this kind of offense or, and Keith probably wins on appeal given that context.
We beg DoPS for consistency, and then they give it us, and we feel they blew it. So five games and a playoff game were valid here, given the offense and given the context.
But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be debates about Keith and Player Safety, such as:
1. Should Keith have been treated more like a Rinaldo or Torres were, given his previous actions? Or is it fair that Player Safety doesn’t see the need to drop the hammer on him because he’s a significantly better player and not part of that element that sullies the reputation of the league?
2. Should Player Safety issue longer suspensions in general? In the past, we felt suspensions were being clipped at five games to stay away from the appeals process. As a result, six games (well, seven, if you use the hypothetical playoff doubler) is a seen as a significant ban.
Again, given where the bar is, the Keith suspension was the correct length. But a real debate about raising that bar for all suspensions is worth having.
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