Duncan Keith’s intensity is one of the defining characteristics of his game. On the ice, he rarely smiles. After games, he broods at his locker stall, stewing on losses and missed opportunities. It’s part of what separates him from other players.
But that fire and bubbling fury has come to the surface at least three times now, resulting in dangerous, illegal plays. He elbowed Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin in the head in retaliation for an earlier hit. He slashed Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter in the face in retaliation for a Carter slash to his ungloved hand. And he swung his stick at the face of Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle in retaliation for being knocked to the ice.
All three actions earned him suspensions, the latest a six-game ban that will keep him out of Game 1 of the playoffs.
Does Keith — one of the most decorated and lauded defensemen of his era — worry about his reputation? Is he a dirty player? Can he be a clean one from now on?
Keith believes he can.
“I try to play the game hard, and for the amount of minutes I play, the games I play, I feel I play the game hard,” Keith said Saturday in his first public comments since the Coyle incident on Tuesday night. “At the end of the day, I try to leave it on the ice. I’m not really focused on what I’m trying to leave out there as far as a reputation. I think everybody wants to have a reputation as a clean, honest player. There’s a line and a limit. It’s just being smarter and knowing that.”
Keith was asked if he can control his temper and assure both himself and his teammates that such an incident won’t happen again.
“Well, I think I’m going to have to,” he said. “It’s just knowing that line. I’m a competitive person, but I don’t think that’s something that I can’t stop. I think I can stop that.”
Keith said he won’t appeal the six-game suspension, which was handed down Friday night after his over-the-phone hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, which called Keith’s action “an intentional and retaliatory act of violence by a player with a history of using his stick as a weapon.” Keith called it “a dangerous play” and said that he was glad Coyle didn’t have to leave the game.
He also said he spoke with Coyle and apologized.
“I called and left a message, and he called me back, so I was appreciative of that,” Keith said. “It shows a lot on his part and the type of guy he is. That’s about it. They’ve got a good team and they’re playing well. I wished him the best after.”
For his part, Coyle said of the suspension: “That’s for the league to decide. And like I said before, I think they do a good job of that. So if that’s what they think, then that’s good.”
This will be the second playoff game Keith has missed because of a suspension; the Carter incident came during the 2013 Western Conference final. Keith said he’ll try to make the best out of a bad situation and be ready to go when the suspension is over.
“We’ve got a lot of great defensemen and we’ve got a good team in here,” Keith said. “We’ve had experience, whether it was missing forwards, defensemen, goalies — guys pick up the slack. Whoever we play in the playoffs, it’s going to be a tough series and every game’s going to be hard-fought. I’ll be excited to come back for Game 2.”