If there is anything the league has been consistent on it’s that first time offenders can get away with a lot more than repeat ones.
But Keith’s situation may have been somewhat unique. In explaining why the league decided on five games discipline czar Brendan Shanahan said:
“Regardless of Keith’s assertion his intent on this play was to impede Sedin’s progress, as opposed to a retaliation of an earlier hit. Keith’s hit was still dangerous, reckless and caused injury.”
We’ve seen other hits described in a similar manner but for first-time offenders they rarely get as many as five games. Just days earlier, Phoenix Coyotes forward Shane Doan was suspended three games for an elbow to the head and he is a repeat offender.
The hits aren’t exactly the same, Keith’s may have been a bit more violent, but they’re close enough to wonder why such a harsh punishment for a first time offense?
It’s clear from replays, that minutes before the blow to Sedin, Daniel hit Keith with an elevated shoulder that caused his head to snap back near the boards but did not cause injury. It was a questionable hit. By Shanahan’s response in his explanation video the idea of a “retaliation” blow obviously came up in the phone call with Keith and his representatives. Keith denied retribution but that doesn’t mean the league believed him.
The injury to Sedin, who missed the next game and is out “indefinitely,” played a big part as well, according to league spokesman Gary Meagher. That notion, coupled with the possibility of retribution contributed to the five games being handed out.
As for the earlier hit by Sedin on Keith, the league would not comment publicly if the referees should have called a penalty but Meagher simply said “it did not rise to the level of needing supplemental discipline.”
It’s possible the league viewed the hit as a shoulder-to-high chest hit and not anything more nefarious than that.
The retribution angle is somewhat unchartered territory in the sense it came minutes after the original blow and not right away. But if the league believes the hit was intentional, and was a response to a previous hit on Keith, than giving him five games makes some sense. There is little doubt the league wants to curb the idea of players taking matters into their own hands in the fashion that Keith did. There are already enough questionable hits in the course of play that those that are deemed intentional are going to be scrutinized more closely.
As for the league changing its mind on Thursday regarding an in-person hearing as opposed to a phone call, Shanahan simply changed his mind as the day progressed. Maybe it was getting a full medical report on Sedin that changed his mind or maybe he became more convinced at the retribution angle. By asking for an in-person hearing, which Keith waived, it allowed Shanahan to potentially suspend him for more than five games. Instead, he landed exactly on that number, and so the Hawks will be without one of their top defenseman until the final two games of the regular season.