*UPDATE: As per TSN, Canucks forward Zack Kassian has been suspended for the remainder of the NHL’s preseason, and five regular season games, for his stick-swinging play that broke the jaw of Edmonton’s Sam Gagner.
Another preseason, another Canuck in trouble for hurting an innocent Oiler.
Unfortunately for Zack Kassian, though, he’ll find little solace in the grey areas that helped Alex Edler, who was called in front of the Shanaban Tribunal for levelling Taylor Hall in 2011. Of course, it was that grey area that put Edler in muddy waters in the first place. His aggressive play and Hall’s subsequent head blast were more the fault of the Oilers skater than they were of Edler, who was merely holding his ground and embarrassing a second-year star in the process. Looking back on it, it’s hard to imagine that was handed a penalty.
On Saturday, Kassian missed his check by a solid Adrian Peterson yard, then carelessly whipped his stick around and smacked Sam Gagner in the jaw, breaking it.
VIDEO: Kassian speaks to reporters at Rogers Arena after his phone call with NHL safety tsar Brendan Shanahan
For the Canucks’ improving winger, there’s little to say in his defence other than, It wasn’t intentional. If you wanted, you could compare it side-by-side with Duncan Keith’s quite on-purpose tomahawk of Jeff Carter’s face in last season’s Western Conference Final, because Keith only received one game for that one. Of course, comparing Kassian to Keith would be overlooking the NHL’s unwritten rules for handling these sorts of things – younger, unproven players can be made an example of, whereas all-stars like Keith, Shea Weber, and Chris Pronger get special treatment.
And, besides… if every possible suspension is tied to past suspensions for similar offences, then how can the game ever get safer?
From Sportsnet.ca’s Mark Spector, an Edmonton native who has intimately covered both the Canucks and the Oilers over his career:
“Kassian missed his check on five-foot-10 Sam Gagner along the sideboards. Kassian thought nothing, however, of reaching out with the heel of his stick and seeing what part of Gagner he could catch.
“Already without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as he recovers from shoulder surgery, Edmonton will also now start the season minus its No. 2 centre, thanks to an irresponsible play that occurred because nobody is worried about what happens when they take a cheap shot on an Oilers’ player.”
*More after the jump…
Kassian had a 10-minute over-the-phone hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan on Monday, spoke to reporters, and then the length of his suspension was made public.
Those five games are against the San Jose Sharks (twice), the Edmonton Oilers (phew), the Calgary Flames, and the New Jersey Devils.
“I had no intention of slashing him in the face,” Kassian told reporters on Monday after his phone call. “It was definitely accidental and hopefully he gets back sooner than later.”
Kassian’s pre-emptive appeal obviously rang hollow with many, with several pundits accusing the hulking Canucks winger of recklessness and stupidity.
“Since Kassian apparently adapts to new input like an Atari 2600 trying to process ‘GTA V’ graphics, he reacted to Gagner’s stopping by slamming into the wall with his back and whipping his stick with his left hand against the boards and Gagner, to ensure he did some semblance of damage to his opponent,” wrote Yahoo! Puck Daddy‘s Greg Wyshynski.
“Desperation breeds stupidity on the ice. A guy blows by his defender, and the defender sticks his knee out in a last-ditch effort. A guy puts in the brakes and Kassian reacts by breaking his jaw.”
The phrase to ensure he did some semblance of damage to his opponent is a little haphazard, even for a blogger like Wyshynski. That doesn’t just imply intent to hit, but also intent to injure. Still, I can’t disagree with “Desperation breeds stupidity on the ice”, and Kassian’s argument for ignorance won’t un-break Gagner’s jaw or soften the sting felt by Edmonton fans.
In regards to the play, from my seat it’s quite clearly an unintentional collision. Kassian often throws his whole body into hits or misses like that, and he normally looks very awkward doing it.
Kassian hits like X-Pac wrestled – limbs everywhere, all the time.
Still, intent can’t – and probably shouldn’t – protect the player in a situation like this. Should Keith have been suspensed for longer last season? Yup. No question. But, it doesn’t lessen the stupidity of what Kassian did. It doesn’t discredit the merit for his suspension. It was a brutally dumb play by a raw, young player.
Hopefully, a stiff hand and a seriously taken punishment (five games? 10 games?) won’t just stop Kassian from doing this again, but it will stop others, too.
It may even stop Duncan Keith. (Nah.)