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NHL suspends Duncan Keith six games – and dispels the "star treatment" myth

Chicago Blackhawks D-man Duncan Keith earned the second-longest suspension this year handed out by the player safety department. So much for coddling star players.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Duncan Keith verdict is in. The NHL Department of Player Safety has suspended the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman six games, including the first game of the playoffs, for his retaliatory high stick on Minnesota right winger Charlie Coyle March 29. The league's video justifying the decision:

New footage surfaced Friday depicting the play leading up to Keith's stick swing. Coyle got his stick up high on Keith. But let's not get bogged down here. For one, as director of player safety Patrick Burke says in the DOPS' explanatory video, Coyle's contact with Keith was the result of a battle for the puck. The contact was incidental. Keith, on the other hand, has full control of his stick, and that's what establishes the intent. Even if we were to accept Coyle as partially guilty, the more vicious of the two acts was punished.

The Keith ban sent a strong message that the NHL will not give star players preferential treatment. Illegal is illegal. Not that Keith's suspension should've been necessary to dispel the myth of "star favoritism" or even "Chicago favoritism" for that matter. Here's a cross section of 2015-16's suspensions to date, working backward, only including those dished out by the Department of Player Safety:

Duncan Keith, 6 games

Jake Virtanen, 2 games

Jared Boll, 4 games*

Chris VandeVelde, 2 games

Dalton Prout, 1 game

Gabriel Landeskog, 3 games*

Darnell Nurse, 3 games

Max Domi, 1 game

Zac Rinaldo, 5 games*

Ryan Reaves, 3 games

Leo Komarov, 3 games

Drew Stafford, 1 game

Milan Lucic, 1 game

Bobby Farnham, 4 games

Matt Hendricks, 3 games

Marcus Johansson, 2 games

Zach Sill, 2 games

Brad Marchand, 3 games*

Max Talbot, 2 games

Nate Thompson, 3 games

Radko Gudas, 3 games

Brandon Dubinsky, 1 game

Gabriel Landeskog, 2 games

Mark Stone, 2 games

Jason Demers, 2 games

Tyson Barrie, 3 games

Nikita Nesterov, 2 games

Raffi Torres, 41 games

* = repeat offender within 18 months under collective bargaining agreement 

If we included bans handed out by the NHL as a whole and the hockey operations department for incidents unrelated to player safety, we also get Dennis Wideman's 20-game (reduced to 10) ban for hitting an official; the performance-enhancing drug busts for Jarred Tinordi and Shawn Horcoff; and the one-game bans handed to Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews for skipping the All-Star Game.

But let's work exclusively from the DOPS list. Does the league "have it in" for one particular team? Hm, well, in 29 suspensions handed out, 20 of the 30 NHL teams are covered. Eastern bias? Hardly. Thirteen bans for the East versus 16 for the West. Coddling Canada? Try again. Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg have had players suspended by the DOPS (and that doesn't even take hockey ops' ban on Wideman into account).

What about the idea of favoring star players, one I've had tabled about 344,889 times on social media over the past five years? Keith's ban naturally contradicts that notion, as he's a two-time Norris Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe Trophy winner, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a two-time gold medallist. He's a Future Hall of Famer and, gee, the league had no problem disciplining him. Same goes for Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, suspended twice this season. Or Brad Marchand, whose 35 goals rank seventh in the NHL. Leo Komarov, slapped with a three-game ban, represented his team in the All-Star Game in January. Stone and Domi are the top-scoring forwards on their respective teams.

A DOPS detractor may claim this year's suspension list doesn't factor in all the dirty plays superstar players "got away with." But that's a lazy assertion. Keith's ban suggests players aren't getting away with anything – if they're behaving illegally on the ice. His six-game ban is the second-longest suspension handed out this season, and it's longer if we factor in the weight of a playoff game versus regular season. We've seen big names suspended plenty of times before Keith, too. Ovechkin has earned four suspensions in his career, three from the DOPS. Claude Giroux got banned for a 2012 elimination game in the playoffs – which his Philadelphia Flyers lost.

i spent a night at the DOPS office last season to learn the ins and outs of how the NHL handles supplemental discipline. There were many fascinating takeaways – which you can read here – but one of them was that these people are professionals. Their No. 1 goal is to change player behavior for the better, regardless of each player's status in the league. They wouldn't be doing their jobs properly otherwise.

Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin



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