One of the many difficult components of Brendan Shanahan's job as the NHL's chief disciplinarian is he doesn't have the benefit of hindsight.
Less than 48 hours after Duncan Keith hit Daniel Sedin in the kisser with an elbow, Shanahan ruled that Chicago Blackhawks defenceman deserved a five-game suspension and subsequent loss of $149,688.15 in salary on Friday.
That means Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner, will return to action in time for the final two games of the regular season. There is no such certainty surrounding Sedin's situation.
We do know Sedin is back in Vancouver. We do know he has seen a specialist. We don't know what the prognosis will be. Shanahan probably was given an update on Sedin's condition. At least we hope so.
We can't help but think back to Jan. 4, a day after Rene Bourque caught Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals in the jaw with a blindside elbow. A repeat offender, Bourque also was levied a five-game suspension. Meanwhile, Backstrom missed his 37th game on Friday evening.
The Capitals fans have every right to feel cheated on this decision. Although their team still clings to the final playoff spot in the East, not having Backstrom in the lineup the past three months has influenced their inconsistent play.
What if Sedin misses three months, too? Or even a month? His absence hurts the Canucks in the playoffs, like the injury to rock-solid defenceman Dan Hamhuis damaged the team's effectiveness against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup last spring.
A five-game banishment for Keith was not enough for the Canucks and their faithful. In fact, not many outside Chicago would agree five games were enough. There has been an appetite in sports for stiff suspensions.
Look at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his decision this week to come down hard on the New Orleans Saints for their bounty-gate. But neither Shanahan nor NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has the sort of support or autonomy that Goodell has with his owners.
When Shanahan cracked down early on with suspensions like the eight-gamer he dealt Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman James Wisniewski to start the season some general managers got upset, piped up and told Shanahan to cool it.
Shanahan called Keith's elbow "dangerous, reckless and caused injury." He called it an elbowing penalty, not a headshot. Shanahan also stated that he took into consideration that Keith was not a repeat offender and in his seven NHL seasons had only incurred one fine.
There also likely was consideration that the Blackhawks already have captain Jonathan Toews on the sidelines with a concussion.
Keith, who was raised in Fort Frances, Ont. before his family moved to Penticton, B.C. when he was 14, told Shanahan that his actions were not in retaliation for a shoulder-to-head hit Sedin put on Keith in the first period. He just wanted to impede his opponent's progress. Shanahan took Keith at his word. Would you?
Keith already was fortunate that neither referee Dan O'Halloran nor Francois St. Laurent decided he deserved a five-minute major and a game misconduct. He only received a two-minute elbowing penalty.
There are no easy answers here. Could Shanahan suspend Keith indefinitely until there is a better sense of how long Sedin will be absent from the game? This was a suggestion from Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman on HNIC radio on Friday afternoon.
It's an intriguing theory. In this case, it would be a fair trade off if Keith had to sit out until Sedin was ready to return. But Bourque for Backstrom, not so much.
The problem remains that Shanahan doesn't have the benefit of hindsight. He wants to curb player behaviour, and he has made strides this season. But occasionally blood boils, temperatures rise, rivals get out of control and supplementary discipline decisions have to be made.
On Friday, there is joy in Chicago and pain in Vancouver. Only time will tell how much pain.
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