Three days after Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith took his stick to the face of Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle, Keith had his hearing to learn how long he’d be suspended. After waiving an in-person hearing Thursday, Keith took part in an over-the-phone hearing Friday afternoon. The end result was a six-game suspension for the Blackhawks’ star blueliner.
Keith does have a suspension history, though his last ban was some time ago. On March 23, 2012, Keith was banned five games for an elbow to the head of Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin. Then, on June 4, 2013, Keith earned a one-game suspension for a slash on Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter in the Western Conference finals.
This incident was deserving of a longer ban, as it was a lot more malicious and obviously intentional. Regardless of whether or not Coyle tripped, slew footed or hit Keith in some way prior to Keith’s retaliation, he cannot react in that way. If he’s really angry, he can go to the locker room between periods and throw something instead of committing a silly and dangerous penalty in clear view of on-ice officials. Keith not only endangered himself and Coyle with his action, but he also endangered his team in the immediate future.
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Keith’s loss for the rest of the regular season isn’t a terrible issue, as the Blackhawks are getting pretty close to being locked into the third spot in the Central Division. Nashville has cooled off just enough in the first wild card spot, and neither Dallas nor St. Louis looks capable of being caught by Chicago at this point.
Missing time during the playoffs, however, is a huge issue for the club, even just for a game. Keith is the Blackhawks’ one true and proven puck-moving defenseman, and he proves night in and night out to be the most important skater for the Blackhawks. As Keith goes, the Blackhawks tend to go. Their first game against whoever they wind up playing (likely St. Louis or Dallas) will probably be a rough one.
Besides Keith, the Blackhawks really only have Erik Gustafsson and Christian Ehrhoff as puck-moving defensemen. Gustafsson is still unproven and far more likely to make basic mistakes than Keith is, while Ehrhoff hasn’t gotten Joel Quenneville‘s vote of confidence, and is even less likely to do so after a rough game Tuesday. Besides those two, the rest of the Blackhawks’ blueliners are not terribly adept at pushing play or quarterbacking a powerplay unit.
Tonight against Winnipeg, Q has opted to go with Trevor van Riemsdyk along with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the first pairing. That is an interesting decision, to say the least. TVR does not move terribly well and is consistently forced into making bad turnovers. With Hjammer also not a great mover and clearly a defensive defenseman, the Blackhawks are going to have to hope their first defensive pairing can just hold off opponents, if Q decides to continue with TVR and Hjalmarsson.
Personally, I think Gustafsson is a more potentially effective option alongside Hjalmarsson, although Gustafsson won’t be able to play the same number of minutes. So, that could leave Ehrhoff, who is more experienced and probably more capable of taking bigger minutes at this point. Of course, Q probably isn’t jumping to make that move.
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And this is a big reason why Keith’s selfish maneuver is really going to hurt the Blackhawks. They should just be glad he wasn’t suspended longer.