by Tyler Rowe
Lousy things happen by accident everyday. Peyton Manning is playing in the AFC West, but not for my Chiefs; Snooki is going to have a kid; Disney is going to lose 200-million on John Carter, hopefully not affecting the budget for Toy Story 4. All bad things. But when the aforementioned incidents took place, no one was being a jerk on purpose. Peyton Manning doesn’t know I hate the Broncos, Snooki probably didn’t get preggers by design and Disney films can’t be delightful 100% of the time, try as they might. When lousy things happen by accident with no undue recklessness, you can’t really be mad.
Lousy things happen on purpose every day too. They chose to kill off Dale in TV’s The Walking Dead [Spoiler Alert!], even though he was the most compelling character on the show. Some delinquents are partial to Irish rioting in London, Ontario (I don’t care how drunk you are – you don’t pitch bricks at cops unless you live under a dictatorship). Sometimes when I go over to Brian’s house, it takes him a whole 42 seconds to offer me a beer. When people do lousy things on purpose, they’re just like Good Canadian Boy Duncan Keith, who pulled a UFC move on Daniel Sedin Wednesday Night in the Madhouse on Madison.
It happened like this: Keith and Sedin were skating up the right boards through the neutral zone with a pass intended for Sedin approaching them both. Sedin turns his back to Keith to recieve the pass, but it skipped by Sedin’s stick, and when coming in contact with the boards, the puck took a strange bounce into the air over both Sedin and Keith. Sedin turned towards Keith to pursue the puck into the offensive zone, and with the puck well clear of both players, Keith elbowed an unsuspecting Sedin right in the head. The head appears to be, from some pretty clear HD video, the only point of contact.
Hockey is a pretty violent game even when you play it within the rules, and violence is often lauded as a virtue from major-junior on. Words like “truculence”, “belligerence” and “possessing a high level of compete” (that one’s gotta go) are code to signify that a player is violent in a “good way”. This kind of encouraged violence is often considered a characteristic of Canadian Hockey and when hockey-grandpa Don Cherry talks about his “good Canadian boys”, he’s often talking about guys who aren’t afraid to give or receive a solid check, or drop the gloves if necessary. This is part of hockey that we should all love – it’s part of what makes the game special. When Duncan “Teeth” Keith elbowed Daniel Sedin in the mouth however, this elbow coming while Sedin was defenseless and without the puck, Keith cranked the violence to an 11, delivering one of the nastiest hits in recent memory. Keith went beyond “truculence”, because it is implied that being violent in a “good way” is something that you do as a part of playing the game, or to put it another way, something you do while you’re making plays. It doesn’t have anything to do with practicing martial arts on players who don’t know they’re sparring.
We won’t know until later today at the earliest just how bad it is for Daniel Sedin, but one thing is for sure – Keith was not trying to make a hockey play when he meted out hinge-bone. When Raffi Torres ran Brent Seabrook last spring, it was violent. But at least he was going for a player with the puck, making a normal shoulder check albeit in a very dangerous way. When Victor Hedman concussed Sidney Crosby, it was violent. But at least he was making a regular check. He was a little late, and he hit Crosby in the numbers, but you could see that Hedman was making a hockey play. Some say the hit was in response to Daniel’s hit on Keith earlier in the game which made contact with the head. But that was a body check to the shoulder, on the puck, which contacted the head after the principal point of contact (shoulder). Keith’s chicken-wing to Danny’s dome? Nothing to do with hockey, but maybe everything to do with what’s really wrong in today’s NHL: a lack of respect between players.
A lot of people, especially those of us who bleed the blue and green, are going to respond with righteous outrage and demand an example be made out of Duncan Keith for his predation. I don’t believe in examples being made in instances like these, and I think the punishment should fit the crime consistent to league rulings on similar hits in the past. If consequences for similar infractions in the past are deemed too lenient and players are fined and suspended more strictly from now on based on an already agreed upon metric, then so be it, as long as the punishment is rooted in consistency. I do however believe that Keith should be looking at something in the area of a five-game suspension. If James Wisniewski got eight games for his after-the-horn elbow to the head of Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck in the pre-season; is Keith’s hit half as bad or worse? The Wisniewski play and the Keith play are similar in that both players enacted a violent, non-hockey event away from the puck on a helpless and unsuspecting opponent.
If the NHL is serious about protecting its players’ health, it has to foster a culture of non-tolerance when it comes to these kinds of reckless attacks. And one of the main things the media can do in this, is by not calling what Ketih did a “hit”, which lends the play a familiarity and legitimacy it should not carry. I’m not suggesting anything quite so dramatic as calling the play an “attack” or “assault”, just that it not be called a “hit”. Duncan Keith got caught up in the throes of an important and emotional match. Emotions run very high in late-season games between bitter rivals like the Canucks and the Blackhawks and I can’t say the Vancouver side is made up of saints who are wholly incapable of doing what Keith did on a different day. I also can’t confidently say whether the incident was premeditated or not, because I’m not Professor X. Duncan is probably a good person who is nice to his mother. But he needs to get his head in the game of hockey, not vengeance and over-the-top violence for its own sake. 5 games should be enough to at least get him thinking on the subject. Daniel Sedin will have lots of time to think about what happened – instead of travelling to Dallas to play tonight’s game against a possible first-round opponent, he’s flying back to Vancouver to see some more doctors. The early tweets suggest he’ll be out at least two weeks with a concussion.