Duncan Keith got off easy.
Facing a long-term suspension as a repeat offender after a brutal stick swinging incident earlier this week, the Blackhawks defenseman instead will miss just one playoff game in addition to Chicago’s final five games of the regular season.
So, basically, a one-game suspension preceded by 12 days of pre-playoff rest and relaxation.
Hard to imagine a much better result for Keith. Harder still to figure out how the NHL’s Department of Player Safety arrived to this decision after it vividly and accurately described his attack on Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle as “an intentional and retaliatory act of violence by a player with a history of using his stick as a weapon.”
Then again, given the DoPS’s own history of lenience, maybe this is exactly what we should have expected.
Funny thing is, they seemed to realize just how stupid and inexcusable this was. According to the league’s explanatory video, Keith was suspended for “slashing his stick dangerously and violently” into the face of Coyle, an act that has no place in the game. They tossed out all the usual mitigating factors – the contact, they said, wasn’t the result of carelessness or a reckless follow-through with the stick. They recognized that Keith, even while lying on his back, was in full control of his actions.
They even acknowledged Keith’s history as a repeat offender, focusing on an incident during the
And yet they still gave him only one meaningful game.
The five regular-season games? Sure, they count. The Blackhawks are stumbling to the finish line with goalie Corey Crawford on IR and several key players, including Patrick Kane, playing their worst hockey of the year. With Keith out of the lineup, it’s more likely that they’ll fall into a wild card spot than fight their way into second place in the Central and claim home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
But this response was always going to be judged by what it cost him in terms of the playoffs. And one game isn’t enough. Not for this kind of violence. Not for someone with his history.
The DoPS had a chance to send a message here. They could have shown that star players aren't treated with kid gloves. That they're equally accountable when their actions cross the line.
Instead, they reinforced a notion of tiered justice. One in which players who don't learn their lesson the first time, or the second, will continue to be slapped on the wrist until maybe, hopefully, they do.
That'll teach 'em.
Since the suspension is more than five games, Keith has the right to appeal the league’s decision. But after watching the wheels of justice grind to a halt when Dennis Wideman went that route back in February, he’ll probably pass on that option and focus instead on getting in some rest ahead of the playoffs.
He’ll need it. Last spring, Keith averaged 31:06 of ice time per game and became the fourth skater in NHL history to log more than 700 minutes in a postseason (715:37). With the rest he’s getting, he might be able handle a few extra shifts this time around.
Yep. He got off easy.