Rozner: Can Chicago Blackhawks' Keith explain it?

  • Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith, right, checks Calgary Flames' Freddie Hamilton during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Saturday, March 26, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

    Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith, right, checks Calgary Flames' Freddie Hamilton during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Saturday, March 26, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

 
 
Posted4/3/2016 1:00 AM

What Duncan Keith did was wrong.

Everyone knows that. No one can dispute that. No one would try.

 

Not even Keith. Certainly not Keith.

But he is not Charles Manson. He's not even Dave Manson, though you would have to watch hockey to have a reasonable picture of the kind of player he is.

Keith is about as honest a defenseman as there is the NHL. He's probably too honest for his own good, and larger forwards frequently take advantage of that.

The fact, however, is that Keith now has three serious violations on his record and he's been punished for all three.

The latest, as you know, was the slash to Charlie Coyle's face in Minnesota last week. It was very bad, frighteningly dangerous and the six games seems a fair number.

What was unfair was what occurred just before the Keith slash.

Coyle slashed Keith in the face and a moment later Coyle yanked Keith's skates out from under him, the equivalent of a slew foot. It was a dangerous play in which Keith's head hit the ice.

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Either play by Coyle could have ended Keith's season. And that's why Keith reacted.

It is not an excuse, but it is something of an explanation.

In the 2013 Western Conference finals, Keith received a one-game suspension for clipping the Kings' Jeff Carter in the face with his stick.

It was a dumb move and the one game seemed a fair number.

What was unfair was what occurred just before the Keith slash.

Carter elbowed Keith in the face. Carter then smashed Keith in the face with the butt end of his stick, which was buried in his glove. It's like punching someone with a roll on pennies in your hand. Carter then chopped Keith's hand as he attempted to pick up his glove.

Any one of those three plays could have ended Keith's season and put an end to the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup chances. And that's why Keith reacted.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It is not an excuse, but it is something of an explanation.

In March 2012, Keith received a five-game suspension for elbowing Vancouver's Daniel Sedin.

It was a dangerous and stupid play, and the five games seemed a fair number.

What was unfair was what occurred not long before that when Sedin took a run at Keith and hit him in the head hard enough to end his season.

It is not an excuse, but it is something of an explanation.

In all three cases, the referees missed the infractions that could have seriously injured Keith. Had any penalties been called, it may have ended trouble before it began.

If Keith didn't have a particularly hard head, he could have been concussed in all three of these incidents. The other player would have been suspended and Keith would have been in serious distress.

He is lucky that he was not seriously injured all three times.

But he retaliated, and in all three cases he has been suspended and forced to beg your forgiveness.

There is, of course, no excuse for any of these dangerous plays. They are all bad, all stupid and all have caused injury to a fellow player, threatening their livelihood, and harmed his own team with his absence.

All three could have ended the careers of those players. It's entirely unacceptable and it can't happen again. Keith said as much Saturday.

But anyone who has played has been pushed to the edge, taking a wild two-hander at an opponent -- or coming close to doing it.

Hockey is a fast and violent game that causes one to tiptoe the line, pushing some toward the edge and sometimes over.

Some guys snap.

Keith is one of those guys. He plays much harder than most realize and with ferocity not easily noticeable.

He is much tougher than his 180 pounds suggest, and it's why he's always in the Norris Trophy conversation, somehow handling players who outweigh him by 40 or 50 pounds.

He also plays with more of an edge than most can see. And like almost everyone who has ever played, you cross him the wrong way and he's going to react.

Nevertheless, you can't swing your stick at anyone. It's that simple. It's very dangerous and career-threatening.

But most people will never understand why Keith reacted any more than they will understand why Todd Bertuzzi went after Steve Moore.

Gary Bettman will certainly never get it.

So Keith will have to learn from this and hopefully never do it again. Either way, he'll hardly be the first NHL Hall of Famer with a checkered past.

He was wronged. His health was put in danger. The refs did nothing. He reacted.

It's not an excuse. It is definitely not an excuse. It can never be an excuse.

But it is something of an explanation.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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