Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks’ Keith Has Phone Hearing Today

By Colin Likas
Mar 31, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle (3) has a black eye during a game against the Ottawa Senators. The result after being struck in the face with a stick from Chicago Blackhawks Duncan Keith. The Ottawa Senators beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 31, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle (3) has a black eye during a game against the Ottawa Senators. The result after being struck in the face with a stick from Chicago Blackhawks Duncan Keith. The Ottawa Senators beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /
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Late Thursday night, we got one step closer to knowing the fate of Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith as it pertains to his inevitable suspension. The league’s Department of Player Safety announced Keith had waived his right to an in-person hearing following his slash to the face of Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle on Tuesday, meaning his hearing will be conducted over the phone. That’s scheduled to happen today.

In-person hearings are typically offered for individuals facing a ban of more than five games, so that may set a minimum mark for Keith’s timeout. Keith received a five-minute match penalty Tuesday after using the blade of his stick to whack Coyle in the face. It appeared Keith might have been tripped or slew-footed ahead of time, but Keith overreacted in a major way and was caught by the referees, who rightfully tossed him from the game. The Blackhawks, without probably their most important skater, could get little going in an eventual 4-1 loss to the Wild, though they did score once while killing Keith’s five-minute penalty.

So, what should we expect to hear today following Keith’s phone call? It’s tough to say at this point. With the amount of time that has passed between the incident and when the call will occur, it seems likely some behind-the-scenes discussions have already taken place between key parties. If the Colin Campbell email fiasco, which broke shortly after the Blackhawks’ loss Tuesday, tells us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t rule out what we least expect when it comes to NHL communications.

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Regarding the actual suspension, which is certainly going to happen — you don’t hit someone in the face with a stick and not get banned — it would be entirely fair to see Keith sit double-digit games. There’s really no excuse for hitting someone with a stick in that way. This wasn’t a quick jab on the arm, lower back or leg; it was a wound-up swing that could have struck a man in his eyes, throat or neck. (It doesn’t look like the stick missed Coyle’s eye by much, either, looking at the picture atop this post.) And Keith was looking at Coyle the entire time, so I don’t buy the “I swung while I was trying to stand up and accidentally hit him in the process” excuse.

Keith does have a couple things going for him, however. First, as sad as it may seem, is that the NHL is well aware of how the Chicago Blackhawks draw come playoff time. How is this relevant? Well, there are only five regular-season games remaining for the Blackhawks, meaning Keith’s suspension could easily run into the playoffs’ opening round. A Keith-less Blackhawks squad is far less likely to run deep in the postseason and give NBC those sweet, sweet television ratings it desires. Especially with Corey Crawford‘s health in question, the Blackhawks will need Keith in the postseason now more than ever. That would never come up during an actual hearing, but don’t think it hasn’t been discussed in the league offices.

The second item is also somewhat sad, but it’s how the NHL operates with regard to suspensions. Coyle, while he briefly left the Wild bench for a checkup, didn’t even miss a shift after taking a stick to the noggin. If Coyle had been hurt at any level, Keith would probably be up a creek without a paddle. In fact, if Coyle were a wildly (no pun intended) fast thinker, he might’ve considered faking an injury with future results in mind. As bad as that sounds, don’t tell me this doesn’t happen in the NHL …

Thankfully for Keith and the Blackhawks, Coyle didn’t sell an injury he didn’t receive and continued on with his job after a checkup. Since the NHL is heavily injured-concerned when it comes to suspensions, that Keith didn’t cause an injury with his bizarre behavior will probably work in his favor.

Regardless of what happens, we can’t and shouldn’t excuse what Keith did. Knowingly swinging your stick at someone’s head is one of the most dangerous things you can do in hockey. Marty McSorley was banned from the league for life after smacking Donald Brashear so hard in the head with his stick that Brashear hit his head on the ice and suffered further injury. And for those saying these are totally different incidents … sadly, they aren’t that different. Keith actually looked up, then actively swung his stick at Coyle. It really doesn’t matter if he was “trying” to hit him in the shoulder or chest. It was reckless, stupid and potentially very dangerous. A double-digit-game ban would not be out of the question.

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All of this taken into consideration, I think the NHL will suspend Keith the rest of the regular season and the first two games of the postseason. I don’t necessarily think the punishment fits the crime, but I also don’t think the NHL wants to ban one of the star players of one of its cash-cow teams during prime viewing season (i.e. the Stanley Cup playoffs). If Keith pulled this stunt mid-season, he might be gone for 20 games. Having it occur now could help him out. The Blackhawks had better hope so, because a Keith-less team through an extended part of the postseason won’t be going very far.

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