In the early moments of last night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Minnesota Wild were up 1-0, scoring on their first shot on goal of the game. The Wild were seemingly having a decent game against a Hawks team that was short one Brent Seabrook, who was a late scratch due to illness. So it should only make sense that being as one of your best defensemen (one of the best in the league even) is out, the rest of your defensive core would be inclined to play a little smarter out there to compensate. Especially the veterans, like let's say, a guy who's won a couple Norris trophies, a Conn Smythe, 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals. A guy with that kind of pedigree you really need to step up when players of any caliber go down.
Enter Duncan Keith
It may or may not come as a shock to you, but this guy's resume goes beyond the accolades mentioned above. In 2012 he tossed out a wicked elbow to Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, because that's the kind of thing good defensemen in the NHL do, right? Sedin would suffer a concussion in the incident, and Keith would sit for 5-games for the effort. In 2013 he showed off his one-handed stick swing against Jeff Carter's face. Don't get me wrong here, Carter was being a dick leading up to the incident, but not to the level in which it warrants attempting to rearrange ones face over. Keith would earn himself a 1-game vacation for that effort.
Of course there are other incidents along the way as well. He's kind of flown under the radar, skirting the line between clean and dirty play with high hits, quiet elbows here and there, and who can forget the "Wakey Wakey, Backey, Wakey Wakey!" remarks from the 2014 playoff series the Blackhawks had against the St. Louis Blues?
So it should really come as no surprise to you when something like this happens.
I can't even imagine what is going through Keith's skull that makes him believe this kind of behavior is OK. Was it incidental? Not a chance. Not for a guy with a smattering of similar incidents in his past. Everyone in the NHL knows you need to be in control of your stick at all times, period. There is absolutely no reason on this Earth you need to swing your stick recklessly through the air like that, just to roll over and get back to your feet.
The Blackhawks have 5 games remaining in their regular season schedule, and I'm sorry Hawks fans, but Keith should not be around for any of them. Given the history, which won't be a mitigating factor due to the age of his most recent suspension but will be considered, and this clearly being an attempt to injure another player on the ice, 5-games almost feels light as a suspension here.
Of course Charlie Coyle, the object of Keith's affection last night, was no worse for the wear. A couple band-aids and he was back out on the ice. Coyle was injured, not severely but in the eyes of the NHL law this should not matter at all. Injury or not, this was a dirty sequence of events and it should have no place in hockey at any level.
Wild fans have a special place in their hearts reserved for those who use their stick as a weapon, just ask Mattias Ohlund (or Mikko Koivu for that matter).
Listen, Duncan Keith is an incredible defenseman in the NHL. His trophy room should inspire players growing up now as something to strive for. Yet, this pattern of him losing his cool on occasion is troubling. I can handle a player screwing up once or twice in their career. When you look at a lot of those types of plays you can tell they are incidental in nature. And Keith certainly isn't on the level of Matt Cooke or Raffi Torres as well.
When you look at his career as a whole, he's generally been really good. His penalty minutes were up early in his career, but he's cleaned up those infractions over the years and solidified himself as one of the premier defenders in the NHL.
Yet it is troubling that an elite talent like Keith can have a checkered history. It's part of this mentality in the NHL where high end talent rarely face supplemental discipline because premier plays receive premier treatment on a near constant basis. The bias from the NHL's DoPS isn't breaking news to anyone who follows the league.
Simply put though, this isn't baseball. Even if it was, you cannot swing your bat at an opposing players head and expect to get away with it. Yes, accidents do happen, but anyone with their eyes open here can plainly tell this was no accident. Keith should probably be given the rest of the season off to think about it, and I'd be inclined to stretch that into the playoffs as well. 5-10 games, somewhere in there seems about right. However, in the environment the DoPS has created in today's NHL, I wouldn't be surprised to see this go for > 5 games too.
The NHL's Department of Player Safety - Consistently inconsistent by nature.
Duncan Keith will have an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety. This means he will likely be suspended by the league for 6+ games.