The most surprising aspect of Blackhawks defeseman Duncan Keith’s six-game suspension was the media reaction to it. Most outlets in the North American press lauded the league for taking a playoff game away from Keith; many said it proved the NHL did not favor its superstars and its marquee franchise.
I rarely advocate for the league to follow the voice of the fans (I didn’t even think John Scott belonged in the All-Star Game, but I admit that turned out pretty well). The fans’ voice is important, but it’s too often emotion-driven, rather than logic-driven, and that is no way to formulate policy or mete out punishment.
In this instance, however, the media appears to have fallen victim to a case of groupthink or insider bias. Two key points provided the pillars for their argument.
First, Keith’s suspension is the second longest handed out by the Department of Player Safety this season so it clearly went above and beyond. Second, the enormity of that lost playoff game creates the sense that Keith was suspended even longer because of the do-or-die nature of the postseason.
We admit the DOPS went one game further than we expected or predicted on the Today’s Slapshot podcast last week. But if you take a step back for perspective, here’s what the DOPS really did: they gave Keith a much-needed five-game rest for the rest of the regular season, and it slapped the Blackhawks with a one-game penalty in the postseason. It’s not the league’s fault the Hawks have little to play for the rest of the regular season, but when meting out punishment the situation absolutely should be considered. Punishment should be punishment after all, not just some benchmark to satisfy standards.
The Blackhawks have been playing poor hockey for a while and the biggest reason many cite is that their defenseman are overworked and can’t get their forwards the puck, thereby stalling Chicago’s transition and possession games.The Blackhawks aren’t likely to move up or down in the standings, so the rest of the regular season is meaningless. It might have made sense to rest Keith anyway to get him fresh for the playoffs because he is arguably the team’s most important player (goaltender Corey Crawford would be the other argument).
Now he’ll get that rest and Chicago will just have to find a way to overcome his one-game absence against their likely first-round opponent, the St. Louis Blues.
Forgive me if I don’t see that as a major hurdle for a team that overcame a 2-0 deficit to the Blues just two seasons ago. St. Louis may prove to be the better team but Keith’s one-game absence won’t tip those scales.
As for the first argument, I understand the DOPS went further than they have for any player this season except their favorite whipping boy, Raffi Torres, but this perspective lacks the simple right-and-wrong measure that most fans intrinsically understand.
Keith was prone on the ice, looked up at Charlie Coyle and chose, quite deliberately, to swing his stick at Coyle’s face. Keith is a repeat offender, even if he technically doesn’t qualify because his last incident took place for than 18 months before this one. He was suspended one postseason game for high-sticking L.A.’s Jeff Carter on June 4, 2013; and he was suspended five games on March 21, 2012, for an elbow to Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin.
The NHL keeps saying it wants to remove head shots from the game. We can talk another day about the inherent hypocrisy of that statement in a league that still allows fighting, but I challenge you to find five more blatant or thoroughly premeditated head shots than Keith’s whack on Coyle.
This wasn’t even the product of a hockey play, like Torres’ infamous head-hunting hit on Marian Hossa in the 2012 postseason that landed him an initial 25-game suspension. This was Keith deciding he was going to whack Coyle’s head for no reason other than his anger over his perceived slight. It was selfish, it was reckless, it was horribly dangerous, and it was premeditated.
Again, we get the argument that this was the second longest suspension this season and DOPS likely used that measure when handing Keith six games. We want consistency with these rulings, but consistency isn’t the only thing we want. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We want proper punishment for blatant and serious infractions. If ever there were a situation for setting precedent, this was it.
Keith got off easy and he probably knows it.
WIDE OPEN EAST?
Just when you thought you had a handle on the Eastern Conference playoff race, two Cup contenders dropped absolute bombs. Defending conference champ Tampa Bay announced that star forward Steven Stamkos would miss the next one to three months for surgery to remove a blood clot near his right collarbone, and the NHL’s hottest team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, announced that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is out indefinitely with a concussion.
The news came just before the Coyotes shut out the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, handing the Capitals their second shutout in the past five games, while doing nothing to quiet those concerns over Washington’s mediocre possession game.
The East is wide open, folks, and that should make for some highly entertaining playoff series.
Ben Bishop or Braden Holtby? Braden Holtby or Ben Bishop? I just can’t decide.
Holtby is going to set the record for single-season wins by a goaltender, breaking Marty Brodeur’s vaunted record of 48 victories. He’s only one shy. That should count for something, right? But Holtby plays for the league’s best team so the wins are largely a product of the team in front of him, right?
Bishop currently owns the league’s best goals against average (2.00) and the league’s second-best save percentage (.929). That has to count for something on a team that struggled to score for large chunks of the season, right?
I am leaning toward Bishop at the moment, but if Holtby hits that magical 50-win plateau, my resolve will probably weaken. This may be the closest race among all of the NHL’s postseason awards.
— The Edmonton Oilers will play their final game in Rexall Place (née Northlands Coliseum) on Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks. The end of that building’s era probably won’t elicit the same sort of widespread reactions that came when Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Forum or Chicago Stadium were torn down — particularly because the Oilers have been so awful for so long, but this is still the building that housed one of the NHL’s greatest dynasties.
Rexall Place hosted 20 Stanley Cup Final games and the Oilers won 15 of them, on their way to five Stanley Cups from 1984 to 1990. It really wasn’t the “The House Wayne Gretzky Built,” since it was constructed in 1974, but the game’s greatest player authored some of his greatest moments between its four walls.
— Coyotes goalie Mike Smith has been spectacular since returning from lower-abdomen surgery on March 12. He has allowed two goals or fewer in six of his seven games over that span and has posted two shutouts — a 44-save blanking of Edmonton in his first game back and a 31-save white-washing of Washington on Saturday.
In those seven games, Smith has stopped 225 of 234 shots for a 0.962 save percentage. Coach Dave Tippett has cautioned that there isn’t a lot of pressure on Smith with the playoffs out of reach, but he added: “It’s obviously that he’s feeling good and feeling healthy and that’s allowing him to play well… That’s what you’ve got to bank on that he’s finally real good and healthy.”
— Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman reported during the Detroit’s win over Toronto on Saturday that there is a “legitimate chance” center Pavel Datsyuk will forego the final year of his NHL contract to return to his native Russia and sign with a KHL team because of family reasons.
GM Ken Holland quickly shot down the report. “Pav has a year to go,” Holland told the Detroit News. “I hear lots of rumors. There were rumors last summer, there were rumors the summer before. There were rumors about Nick Lidstrom for about three years. It’s all rumors.”
— Jaromir Jagr’s two assists Thursday in a win against New Jersey helped gave him 60 points for the 18th time in his NHL career; the third-highest total behind Gordie Howe (21) and Wayne Gretzky (19). Jagr (44) also became the oldest player in NHL history to reach 60 points in a season.
With four games left in his first full season with Florida, Jagr has the Panthers’ highest point total (62) since Olli Jokinen had 71 in 2007-08. Earlier this season, Jagr told Today’s Slapshot he’d like to play until he’s 50. At this point, we don’t see anything stopping him.
Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter