It’s one thing to stand up for yourself after taking a big hit from an opponent. It’s another thing to take retaliation to the next level by endangering that opponent, especially after a clean hit. Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian overreacted to the nth degree on Saturday after taking a hard check from Calgary Flames star Matthew Tkachuk and now the league has stepped in to review the situation. The Department of Player Safety announced this morning that Kassian will sit for a hearing on Monday and a suspension is likely.
The incident in question occurred late in the second period of Saturday’s rivalry clash (video). Tkachuk lays a powerful, but legal hip check on an unsuspecting Kassian behind Calgary’s net. Kassian gets up from the hit, immediately looking for revenge. It is worth noting that Tkachuk hit Kassian with a not-as-clean check to the head earlier in the game, so it is understandable that the veteran might be looking to put the youngster in his place. However, the way about which Kassian handled the matter was over the top. With Tkachuk still trying to work the puck out from behind the net, Kassian drops his gloves and goes right to the face of the unaware Tkachuk. Kassian proceeds to throw Tkachuk to the ice, deliver a punch to the back of his head, pull him back up, and then deliver several more punches before Tkachuk again falls to the ice and the referees are able to separate the pair. All the while, Tkachuk was merely trying to protect his face while being rag-dolled, never even given the chance to defend himself, nevertheless the opportunity to truly match up with Kassian in a fair fight. Kassian was handed a four-minute double minor for roughing and a ten-minute misconduct for the play.
However, that is unlikely to be the end of the discipline for Kassian. The physical forward is a repeat offender, which will make it very difficult to escape this incident without another suspension. Kassian’s first encounter with Player Safety occurred in 2013 with the Vancouver Canucks, when he was suspended for the first five games of the 2013-14 season as part of an eight-game ban that included three preseason games, stemming from an intentional high sticking penalty. He received another suspension that same season, a three-game ban for a hit from behind. Unrelated to Player Safety, Kassian also sat for 32 games in the 2015-16 season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens for substance abuse issues. Kassian has a long history with NHL discipline and it is likely to lengthen after Monday’s hearing, as he again has shown a lack of restraint, awareness, and self-control that cannot be tolerated in the NHL.