It baffles me, the way people continue to misunderstand the reasoning behind January’s five-game suspension to Brad Marchand. The Boston Bruins’ winger wasn’t simply suspended for clipping; he was suspended for the circumstances surrounding the clip as well. What makes Marchand’s supplemental discipine stand out from the manifold Shanabans served by the Department of Player Safety this season is, simply, that the Department saw intent.
Most of the time, it’s impossible to judge an ugly play on anything other than the split-second in which it happens. In this case, Sheriff Shanahan saw the incident the same way we did: predatory, based on the way Marchand chases Sami Salo around the ice prior to injuring him.
There are two reasons I bring this up. The first is to dismiss out of hand any and all comparisons between what Marchand did and other clips before or after it. At this point, the entire Boston media has a screenshot of the Marchand clip saved to their desktop, and every low hit that follows inspires a half-assed and contextually (and intellectually) devoid juxtaposition. But, unless you can go back and find evidence that the hitter targeted the hittee, that he punched the hittee in the back of the head multiple times in an effort to draw a response before turning to the low-bridge, don’t waste your breath. Most ugly incidents are instinctive, a word Brendan Shanahan used to describe Shane Doan’s elbow to the head of Jamie Benn, which drew a three-gamer on Wednesday. The Marchand incident was premeditated.
The second reason I refer to this incident is because Duncan Keith’s elbow to the face of Daniel Sedin from Wednesday’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks actually does have something in common with it: while the hits were very different in type, both injurious hits shared the unique distinction of being best described as “premeditated”, rather than “instinctive”.
Keith is in trouble. Here’s the hit again:
For the video impaired: after Henrik Sedin attempts to move a bouncing puck across the neutral zone to his brother, who is being shadowed by Keith, the puck strikes the boards and jumps into the air. As the puck sails behind them, Keith steps into Daniel and drives his elbow into the Canucks winger’s face. It’s inexcusable.
Now, I tend to be sympathetic to the players when it comes to ugly hits at speed, simply because, yes, hockey is fast. There are times when appeals to this truism are false, but there are also times when it should be kept under consideration. There’s a reason some hockey players are trained with Air Force technology — the game moves fighter pilot fast, and there are going to be instances in which even the quickest thinkers appear unthinking.
Keith made an appeal to this truism. From the Vancouver Sun:
“The puck was up in the air, and from what I remember, I’m trying to close my gap and have a good gap on him, right at the last second he moves forward and I don’t know where the puck is. It’s fast and, like I said, I hope he’s OK. I haven’t seen the replay. I need to see it again.”
But I don’t buy it. Keith is hardly a victim of pace, and his victimization of Daniel Sedin is accidental only in terms of what part of the head the elbow strikes. Daniel does indeed move at the last second; he swivels, which is why the elbow catches him in the face. But the location of Daniel’s head doesn’t change in the slightest otherwise, and this play doesn’t occur all that quickly. Keith had ample time to make a better decision.
Speaking of time, this incident doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
We have to touch on Henrik Sedin’s assertion that Keith was following through on a threat. “It’s one of those hits where things were said before from a certain guy and he did what he wanted to and that’s too bad,” Henrik said, referring to a claim that Keith had threatened Daniel prior to the incident.
But, for the most part, that’s neither here nor there unless an official can verify it. The last thing the Department of Player Safety needs to do is open the Pandora’s Box that is factoring the testimony of an aggrieved third party into disciplinary matters. Henrik Sedin has always been an honest fellow, but you simply can’t use his testimony here and remain impartial. So out it goes.
Still, while we don’t have footage of the threat, we do have context. Prior to Duncan Keith trying to turn Daniel Sedin’s face concave, Sedin catches Keith with a late, high hit of his own:
Forgive me if my reaction to this is muted. Heck, there’s an irony in this hit. If Daniel Sedin isn’t the player making it, it’s nowhere near as dirty as it appears. That’s not to say Daniel is making an overly dirty hit, either; it’s just that, if anyone else is coming in on Keith, the Chicago blueliner braces himself for contact rather than leaning over to watch his pass.
Daniel typically doesn’t hit. This is Chicago, however, a team whose game plan is to beat the stuffing out of him, so Daniel gets the jump and dishes out what he expects to be taking all night. But, with the hit a beat late and Keith hunching, suddenly the equity in the two men’s height is gone and Daniel’s shoulder connects with Keith’s head. This a penalty to be certain, but it’s no more than two minutes. In terms of execution, it’s a clean hit – Daniel doesn’t leave his feet and he keeps his elbow down. But head contact is head contact, and you have to penalize for it.
But it’s a far cry from Keith’s blatant and egregious elbow, and ignore those who would claim it justifies or excuses it, because it doesn’t. In fact, if it does anything, it makes the elbow look worse.
I think Keith knows it too, which is why he acts as though Daniel Sedin’s hit never even happened, saying “No, I don’t think so” when asked if Sedin hit him up high first. I won’t say this is dishonesty, because I’ve chosen to dismiss the evidence that would prove he was acting in retaliation to Sedin’s hit, but I will say I suspect this to be dishonest.
Here’s the issue. As mentioned, the “speed of the game” card is always going to be in play when it comes to head hits. But the moment you have evidence a hit didn’t occur within that vacuum, the hitter’s in trouble. In that regard, Keith’s hit, which appears to be a premeditated retaliation, deserves massive discipline.
Brendan Shanahan’s major crusade this season has been to rid head hits from the game. It’s been a tough slog, since the game, as played, virtually guarantees some will still occur unintentionally. But here we have an instance where a player appears to have consciously chose to make one.
While it sounds like it won’t be more than five games, the suspension should be severe. If the league really wants to snuff out head hits, it would do well to severely punish those who premeditate to employ them.