It is the age-old question in NHL disciplinary circles. What constitutes a suspension-worthy offence?
The Chicago Blackhawks are about to find out after the NHL's player safety department determined that defenceman Duncan Keith would have a disciplinary hearing with judge Brendan Shanahan Wednesday morning.
The hearing, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Pacific time, was scheduled after Keith took a one-handed stick swing to the head of Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter in the second period of Tuesday night's game, a 3-1 L.A. victory.
Keith was responding to a slash, seconds before, from Carter on his bare hand after the Chicago defenceman had lost a glove in a scuffle between the two players.
Keith immediately tried to apologize to Carter, who seemed to want no part of that, as he left the ice for stitches. Carter eventually returned and was one of the game's stars, recording two assists.
Keith is the Blackhawks' leader in ice time at a little more than 24 minutes of playing time per night, so his absence would create a significant hole in their lineup. Chicago leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 heading into Thursday night's fourth game.
Post-game, Keith described the play as accidental.
"Obviously, I wanted to give him a tap but not where I got him," Keith said. "I felt bad. I'm glad to see that he came back. It was just a scuffle. It was an accident."
Asked immediately after the game if he feared supplementary discipline, Keith answered: "I have no idea. I said it was an accident."
Keith would be considered a repeat offender under the NHL's disciplinary code because in March of 2012, he received a five-game suspension for elbowing Daniel Sedin to the head, an injury that caused Sedin to miss the end of last year's regular season, plus the first two playoff games. Throughout his career, Keith has occasionally shown a hair-trigger temper that sometimes goes off and gets him into trouble.
If Keith isn't available, the Blackhawks have a couple of options on the blue line, but would likely insert Sheldon Brookbank in his place.
For his part, Kings' coach Darryl Sutter thought the on-ice penalty against Keith should have been more significant, noting" "That's three head injuries now in the playoffs for us. I don't know how to answer it. It's retaliation with a stick."
Earlier in the playoffs, the Kings lost centre Jarret Stoll for six games in the second round with a concussion after a hit from the San Jose Sharks' Raffi Torres, which also resulted in a suspension. Currently, they are playing without centre Mike Richards, injured in the first game of the series on a hit from Dave Bolland that passed muster, according to the NHL, and didn't result in either a penalty, a fine or a suspension.