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The politics of Duncan Keith’s elbow

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is going to be suspended for his elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks. On this point, the arguments are few. Even Sam Fels of Second City Hockey, as committed to the Indian as anyone, believes Keith should sit. And I'm pretty sure he slow-roasts Canucks for family meals.

The question is for how long, given the news reported by Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet last night: The NHL has asked Keith to waive his right to an in-person hearing, which means this suspension could climb higher than five-game maximum a phone hearing would have produced. (Renaud Lavoie of RDS says this is pending NHLPA approval.)

What to glean from this: That Sedin's injury, having been flown back to Vancouver "for evaluation" while missing Thursday night's win over the Dallas Stars, is a significant factor. (And that Sedin and Keith are significant players … go down the list and find another suspension in which a Norris winner attacked a Hart finalist.)

But also that the earlier shoulder to the head from Sedin on Keith can be viewed as a catalyst for the Chicago defenseman's subsequent actions — but as a sign of intent, rather than an old-school excuse for settling the score.

As we wrote on Thursday, the NHL's disciplinary process goes much deeper than analysis of a single play. It digs up the roots for aggression, looks at the context, considers the players and other factors.

For Duncan Keith, however, there are a number of dynamics here that don't play in his favor, and lead one to believe he'll be made an example of for his elbow on Sedin.

Once more, with feeling:

For your consideration, as the NHL may already be considering it:

Dan O'Halloran's crew blew the call

A 2-minute elbowing minor on Keith for that hit was, in hindsight, preposterous.

Kerry Fraser on TSN called it a "bare minimum a five-minute major and game misconduct for elbowing," and wants a 5-game suspension at a minimum for Keith. He also calls out the officiating crew, indirectly, for putting the onus on the Dept. of Player Safety to diffuse the situation and make a statement:

The official's ability to accurately differentiate between minor and major infractions on the ice is vital to the success of controlling (and hopefully someday eliminating) dangerous hits and deliberate hits to the head of an opponent. Game enforcement is not only a most visible sign to participants in that specific game but to the hockey community at large as to what is deemed acceptable conduct.  In too many situations witnessed this season, the officials have either missed the mark altogether or came up short by at least three minutes plus a game misconduct.

The blown call led to Keith being back on the ice, which led to more malarkey as the Canucks stood up for their fallen star.

The blown call also opened the door for Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault to add another log to the conspiratorial bonfire that Canucks fans hate to acknowledge their team (and media) stokes. From Brad Ziemer of Postmedia:

"We got a big two-minute power play off that hit from the same referee - remember last year when Daniel got punched six times in the face in the Boston series?" Vigneault said. "I seem to remember it was the same guy."

That guy was O'Halloran, who made no call when Boston forward Brad Marchand used Daniel's head as a punching bag in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.

Maybe he and Stephane Auger can compare notes.

The "Predatory" Policy

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While the Marchand low-bridge on Sami Salo from earlier this season is different than Sedin/Keith in instigation (Salo's hit was clean) and tactics (Marchand's hit was reckless, but it wasn't an elbow to the head), they share something in their DNA: a predatory nature.

Dave Ebner of the Globe & Mail had a good piece on the Keith elbow that notes Brendan Shanahan has often differentiated between "instinctive" and "intentional" hits. From the Globe:

The most common suspension this season has been three games, which was the penalty handed on Wednesday to Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan for an elbow to the head of Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. Shanahan stated: "Doan instinctively reaches out, catching Benn in the chin with his elbow." Shanahan added that it was a "reckless" elbow. Benn wasn't injured but Doan is also a repeat offender, with a $2,500 fine just last week for a boarding minor.

When Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins got five games in January for clipping Vancouver's Sami Salo, who was concussed on the hit, Shanahan highlighted that it was not an "instinctive" hit, noted past bad behaviour, and concluded: "We feel this was a predatory, low hit delivered intentionally by Marchand."

From the fact that Sedin hit Keith to the alleged threat Keith made to Sedin before his elbow, the NHL is going to view this thing as "intentional." And intentional, in the past, has gotten James Wisniewski eight regular-season games — his hit on Cal Clutterbuck was retaliatory for a previous Clutterbuck hit on Fedor Tyutin.

The Line Brawl

Here's where we start to leave the ice, politically.

The fight between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers at the start of their game on Monday was … well, awesome. But not for everyone. Not for ESPN's "PTI" guys or for Dan Patrick or for other mainstream media types in the U.S. that rediscover hockey whenever there's something to get preachy about.

There wasn't overwhelming condemnation, but there may have been enough of it to, ahem, "encourage" the NHL to make their next few suspensions — like Shane Doan getting three games in a playoff race — really count.

The NFL's BountyGate

Now, this one is a dash of spitballin' and touch of doom.

The NFL was just praised in every corner of the sports world for throwing the book at the New Orleans Saints after a system of bounties being paid of opponents' injuries was discovered. More than a few NHL fans opined: 'Why can't Roger Goodell handle hockey's supplemental discipline?'

But the reason the NFL acted so swiftly and emphatically has less to do with "cleaning up the game" than "protecting their own asses."

Dave Zirin notes that 800 former players — EIGHT HUNDRED! — are suing the NFL for negligence because of concussions. Litigation was a game-changer: The League tightened rules, strengthened penalties and, now, has suspended a Super Bowl winning coach for a year.

From the moment the ex-players took action, it was expected the NHL would monitor what's gone on, for fear of it's own liability should the NFL take a loss in court.

Now, in a week that's seen the NFL overreact to the bounty situation, the NHL faces its own crossroads — one star player potentially concussing another, with intent to injure. That's rare; even rarer, this is one of those incidents that has the attention of the hockey world, because of the players involved and the intensity of the rivalry and the building criticism that the NHL DoPS has lost its edge. (No suspensions of at least five games since early January.)

The politics aren't in Duncan Keith's favor here. Chicago has seven games remaining. The phrase "remainder of the regular season" has been creeping into our thoughts ...

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