Basically, Stephane Quintal said, “We’ve seen this movie before from Duncan Keith.”
Quintal wasn’t in charge of NHL Player Safety when Keith was previously suspended; Brendan Shanahan was. But in suspending Chicago’s star defenceman on Friday night for high-sticking Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle, Quintal drew a direct line between that incident and another one almost three years ago when Keith high-sticked L.A.’s Jeff Carter in a Stanley Cup playoff game.
Keith got a single playoff game ban, and on Friday, Quintal gave him one playoff game again, plus five relatively meaningless regular season games.
An increase in punishment, yes. A drastic increase for a twice-suspended player with a history of nasty stick infractions? No.
That’s not to say the defending champion Blackhawks won’t be hurt at all by the suspension. They’re slumping these days, and it’s conceivable they could slide back into a wild card position without Keith in the lineup. Beyond that, it’s one game at the beginning of their first round series, and if they can’t overcome that adversity, well, they’re undeserving of a second straight championship.
The fact that Coyle, remarkably, wasn’t injured when Keith slashed him undoubtedly saved the Chicago defender from a much more serious suspension. While lying on his back, Keith looked Coyle in the eye and with one hand on his stick, whipped it upwards and across the Wild winger’s face.
The one-handed style of attack was where Quintal drew the correlation to Keith’s vicious high stick on Carter back in the 2013 playoffs.
The debate will always be whether the suspension will be enough to dissuade Keith from acting out again. Probably not. The suspension isn’t that severe, and part of the two-time Norris Trophy-winning rearguard’s game is to play with an “edge,” a layer of unpredictability over what he might do if crossed by an opponent.
The suspension came on the same day three NHL players – Nazem Kadri, Martin Hanzal and Nail Yakupov – were fined for diving/embellishment, creating a sense that the NHL is cracking down harder on triple gainers than dangerous high sticks.
At the major junior level, meanwhile, OHL commissioner David Branch banned first round draft prospect Max Jones of the London Knights for 12 post-season games for a head shot in a playoff game. It’s hard to draw comparisons between the OHL and NHL but clearly the junior league has a far more draconian approach to supplemental discipline than does the NHL.
Nothing new there.
Other than over-the-top serial offenders like Raffi Torres, the NHL just generally isn’t in the business of either severely punishing players for on-ice transgressions or using long suspensions as deterrents.
So Keith commits two similar dark acts three years apart and gets a slightly longer suspension that will cost him more than $148,000, but not one likely to injure his team any more than the last one.
There’s consistency there. But no sense that the NHL had any interest in throwing the book at one of its biggest stars.