Cam Cole: Keith polishes role of good cop, bad chop

 

 
 
 
 
Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is escorted off the ice after being given a match penalty against the Minnesota Wild during their Tuesday NHL game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (Bruce Kluckhohn, NHLI via Getty Images)
 

Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is escorted off the ice after being given a match penalty against the Minnesota Wild during their Tuesday NHL game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (Bruce Kluckhohn, NHLI via Getty Images)

Photograph by: Bruce Kluckhohn, Vancouver Sun

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VANCOUVER — For those with short memories, it is not even remotely unusual for award-winning National Hockey League players to have a dark side.

Some darker than others.

Eddie Shore, Terrible Ted Lindsay … Gordie Howe’s famous elbows were lethal weapons. Mark Messier’s might have been carved from the same stone as Mr. Hockey’s.

Scott Stevens’s roll call of open-ice concussion victims would have had him suspended for life in today’s NHL, though no doubt he’d have adapted to live within the rulebook.

Chris Pronger? The guy had a rap sheet longer than Clyde Barrow’s.

Hall of Famers, every one. Heck, Pronger was even hired in 2014 to assist the NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DPS), under the theory that there was no on-ice crime so heinous or sneaky that Pronger couldn’t climb inside the perpetrator’s head and spot the big lie.

So let us now consider the strange case of Dr. Duncan and Mr. Keith.

Dr. Duncan is a superior skater and puck mover, a three-time Stanley Cup champion defenceman with the Chicago Blackhawks and a two-time Norris Trophy winner who, after logging an inhuman amount of ice time in last year’s post-season, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

He is soft-spoken, reticent, a little cranky on occasion, but in his own way, as important to the success of the Blackhawks as Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane.

Dr. Duncan’s evil alter-ego, however, is Mr. Keith, an unstable powder keg who explodes every now and then in an act of ruthless fury that even his exalted status cannot excuse.

Tuesday night, having been deposited on his backside by Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle, Mr. Keith very deliberately and with great precision swung his stick, one-handed, in a giant arc, bludgeoning Coyle squarely in the face with the heel of his stick blade. The ‘thud’ was almost palpable through the TV screen.

He was issued a match penalty for intent to injure, and was guaranteed a hearing with the DPS, suspension to follow.

Ah, but how long a suspension?

The league gave about five minutes’ thought to the late, blindside hit Vancouver rookie Jake Virtanen delivered Tuesday to the head of San Jose defenceman Roman Polak, issuing Virtanen a two-game sentence, and from here, that looks like a reasonable call.

No such rush to judgment for Mr. Keith. Evidently, this will take more consultation and thought. Unlike Virtanen, he’s a star (or Dr. Duncan is), though that isn’t everything. Pronger was once suspended twice in the same Anaheim championship playoff season for concussing Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom and Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond.

But Mr. Keith is a repeat offender in every sense except the DPS’s definition, which wipes the slate clean of previous offences after 18 months of good behaviour.

So the five-game penalty Mr. Keith received for concussing Daniel Sedin with a vicious elbow four years ago doesn’t count. Neither does Mr. Keith’s previous stick-related suspension, a one-gamer after he retaliated for a Jeff Carter whack at his gloveless hand by turning the blade over and swiping his stick  (again, one-handed) into the L.A. forward’s face, busting teeth and causing a 21-stitch wound, in the 2013 playoffs.

In each case, Mr. Keith’s violent temper has got the better of him. And though his list of priors can’t be held against him for fining purposes, it can factor into the length of a suspension, especially if the DPS feels the Carter and Coyle stick-swinging, face-targeting incidents show a pattern of reckless behaviour that needs to be nipped in the bud before it costs the next victim an eye.

A reasonable person would say the pattern is already clear. But any penalty imposed on Mr. Keith at this point — five games, say, when there are only six left in the Blackhawks’ regular season — would amount to nothing more than some much needed time off to recharge Dr. Duncan’s tired body before the post-season grind.

In other words, unless a suspension includes playoff games, what’s the point?

Well, there is a point, actually. The Blackhawks have been in a March tailspin, even with Dr. Duncan in the lineup. Their star forwards have been slumping, the power play is 0-for-26 in the last nine games. Goalie Corey Crawford has been hurt.

And the Hawks, who relied absolutely on a Big Four of Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya while winning their last two Cups, have not found a No. 4 since losing Oduya to Dallas.

A team that looked bulletproof after acquiring depth forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann at the trade deadline — and swapping Rob Scuderi for another veteran D-man, Christian Ehrhoff — just got taken to school by a Minnesota team that swept all five games of their season series.

Suddenly, the Hawks are searching for their lost offence and power play … and confidence.

It’s a hole that even Mr. Keith, in his workaday identity as the good Dr. Duncan, may not be able to skate them out of, this time.

ccole@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is escorted off the ice after being given a match penalty against the Minnesota Wild during their Tuesday NHL game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (Bruce Kluckhohn, NHLI via Getty Images)
 

Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is escorted off the ice after being given a match penalty against the Minnesota Wild during their Tuesday NHL game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (Bruce Kluckhohn, NHLI via Getty Images)

Photograph by: Bruce Kluckhohn, Vancouver Sun

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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