Duncan Keith is either really smart or really fortunate. His elbow on Daniel Sedin on March 21 will almost certainly warrant a suspension for the standout Blackhawks defenseman.
This suspension, however, will do nothing but benefit Keith and the Blackhawks—unless the NHL takes a new approach: Don't suspend Keith for meaningless regular season games; suspend him in the playoffs.
Most predictions I have heard say Keith will be suspended for between three and five games. For the sake of argument, let's split the difference and pretend he will get four games. What are the suspension's consequences, especially if Chicago plays Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs again?
Chicago, with eight games left before the playoffs, will not have Keith for four of them. He takes that time to rest, and comes back with just enough games to get any rust out of his system. He is fresh and healed for game one against Vancouver, ready to play his usual 30 minutes per game. It is quite possible, given the nature of concussions, that his job is even easier—the reigning Art Ross trophy winner may still be out of the lineup!
So let's see: As punishment for Keith's dirty play, Chicago gets a nice rest for their best defenseman just before the start of the Playoffs. In addition, his job is that much easier because he doesn't have to concern himself with Vancouver's best goal scorer. And this suspension is a deterrent? More like an encouragement.
Is the NHL serious about putting a stop to this garbage? Do they really want to punish Keith for his actions? If so, the way to do it is to hit him when it hurts—in the playoffs. Mr. Shanahan, let Duncan Keith play in the eight meaningless regular season games, and suspend him for the start of round one of the playoffs (even if it is for fewer than four games). This will really get the players' attention, and cause them to think twice before they act in the future. And really, isn't that the idea behind suspending players in the first place?
I bet that the Chicago Blackhawks, and every organization, will take a much more active role in getting rid of these sorts of plays when they knew the punishment could mean playoff games (and playoff revenue). Speaking of revenue, multi-millionaire Duncan Keith may not care about losing his salary for a few games—but I bet he does care about hurting his team in the playoffs. Do you think Keith would have thought twice about going after Daniel Sedin if he knew he may not be around during the only time of year that matters? And if by some bizarre miracle Chicago does not make the playoffs, you can always suspend Keith for the first 3 to 5 games of the regular season next year.
While I'm not holding my breath, the NHL has a real chance to send a message that they are serious about getting head shots and cheap shots out of the game. I don't think that most players, especially superstars like Keith, care about missing a few regular season games in March. In fact, they may welcome the break.
Don't give Duncan Keith a vacation, Mr. Shanahan—send a real message and suspend him in the playoffs.