The NHL Department of Player Safety has made a decision on how best to reprimand Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian for his recent altercation with the Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk. After listening to Kassian’s side in a hearing earlier today, Player Safety has announced a two-game suspension for Kassian. It is the fourth suspension of Kassian’s NHL career, the third by Player Safety, but it is also the lightest. The league explained their decision as follows:
[Tkachuk] delivers a hard check to the shoulder of Kassian, which knocks him to the ice. Kassian gets back to his feet and begins looking to get to Tkachuk… Kassian attempts to grab Tkachuk, who is focused on following the puck up the ice for an offensive chance. Kassian grabs him by the collar from behind, takes him down to the ice, and throws a series of forceful punches directed at the head of Tkachuk, who is an unwilling combatant. This is a violation of Rule 46.2… which states: ‘The aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant.’ It is important to note that at no point does Tkachuk have the opportunity to square up, drop his gloves, or do anything other than attempt to protect himself from the punches being thrown.
Kassian acknowledges he was seeking retribution for this hit and previous hits thrown during the game. While he acknowledges frustration, players are not excused from grossly violating league rules in retribution or retaliation for hits thrown on them – legal or otherwise.
In reaching their decision, Player Safety likely took into account the aggressive play of Tkachuk earlier in the game, including a questionable hit of his own. They likely also rewarded Kassian for staying off of their radar over the past few years. Nonetheless, the Oilers’ grinder will still have to sit for a pair of contests, which includes an important divisional clash with the Arizona Coyotes. Edmonton will miss Kassian’s physical play in those games, but also his offense in what is already the veteran’s best scoring season to date.