Keith’s Suspension a Hollow Victory
As you’ve all most likely heard by now, the Shanaban’s verdict is in – for his elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin, Duncan Keith was suspended for 5 games and will forfeit nearly $150,000 in salary.
For the Canucks, it’s a hollow victory. While Keith’s suspension is significant – and pretty much what most expected – it doesn’t bring Danny back. In fact, the Canucks confirmed yesterday that he did suffer a concussion and will be out of the lineup indefinitely. And if he’s still unable to play when the postseason begins, how do the Canucks replace their leading goal scorer?
you’re a Canucks fan or a Blackhawks fan you agree or disagree with the severity of the punishment, you have to admit Brendan Shanahan has doled out his supplemental discipline with relative consistency. Moreso than in the past, similar hits seem to get similar punishments and we can understand them better thanks to the always popular Shanaban videos. Shane Doan’s hit to Jamie Benn’s head resulted in a 3-game suspension for Doan; Rene Bourque’s on Nicklas Backstrom resulted in a 5-game suspension; Andy Sutton’s on Calder candidate, Gabriel Landeskog, resulted in a 5-game suspension. As much as some Canucks fans wanted to see Keith miss playoff games as well – which would have meant a suspension of at least 8 games – this was an unrealistic expectation given Keith’s history and Shanahan’s M.O.
Immediately after Keith’s hit, I wondered whether or not the league was doing enough to deter these dirty hits. Coincidentally, Shanahan himself talked earlier this week about his use of suspensions to change players’ behaviors (via ESPN Insider, subscription required).
“The standard of what is illegal or legal doesn’t change,” Shanahan said. “For the most part, you’re looking at things in seven-game clumps. It’s a seven-game season each series.”
“I can attest to this as a player, if you ask me if I’d rather have a four-game suspension in November than a one-game suspension in the playoffs, I’d take the four-game suspension in November,” Shanahan said. “If you think about it, that one game in the finals is the equivalent of a 12-game suspension. I don’t feel we’re in the punishment business, we’re in the changing player behavior business. You do that by getting a player’s attention.”
But if you want to get the players’ attention, wouldn’t you want to send a stronger message than a 5-game break two weeks before the playoffs begin? What is there to deter a similar incident from happening tonight when the player knows he’ll sit the last few, and in some cases, meaningless regular season games and be back playing when the most important games start?
In a way, it’s very similar to the NHL’s approach to
managing officiating games. While no one from the league would ever admit it, we all know that a hooking penalty in the first period is not a hooking penalty in third period; an interference penalty is an interference penalty when committed against a team trailing by 3 goals halfway through the game but not when committed against a team leading by 3 goals in the last 5 minutes of the third period. If you’re a team trailing in the late stages of the game, why wouldn’t you clutch and grab and hook and hold when you know that chances are those penalties won’t be called?
If you want to change players’ behaviors, make it so that a 2-minute minor in the first shift of a game is a 2-minute minor in the last. If you want to get the players’ attention, make it so that an offense egregious enough to warrant a 5-game suspension in the regular season is a 5-game suspension in the postseason.
It wasn’t even a year ago that Aaron Rome was suspended for 4 Stanley Cup Finals games – or 48 regular season games using Shanahan’s formula – for a hit that even the NHL deemed to be a legal, hockey hit that just happened to be 0.4 seconds late. Yes, Shanahan has been consistent, but when you look at the number of the league’s top line players who have been knocked out this season because of dirty hits, maybe it’s time to raise the standard.
Or re-raise it. Again.
Only then will we know the NHL is truly serious about upholding player safety, about eliminating head shots, about protecting its stars, about protecting its players, and about protecting its product.