Edmonton Oilers right winger Zack Kassian is in trouble again, this time for a dangerous kick on Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak. While it’s never certain what the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will do in these situations, Kassian was offered an in-person hearing for the incident, which gives the NHL the option of suspending him for more than five games. He waived his right to the in-person hearing and a phone hearing will be conducted Friday afternoon.
The key here for me is intent. Luckily, Cernak was not injured on the play, but that’s beside the point: skates are the most dangerous piece of equipment used by a hockey player and the list of gruesome injuries are well-known: Clint Malarchuk, Richard Zednik and just this season, Niagara IceDogs goalie Tucker Tynan are among those who have been affected.
The difference between those particular three cases and Kassian? The skaters in the other three didn’t mean to hurt those guys. Far from accidental, Kassian grabs Cernak, then gets bowled over by his own teammate (Josh Archibald), resulting in all three players on the ice. Kassian then appears to hold Cernak’s glove/stick before aiming a kick at his chest.
After the game, Kassian told Mark Spector that “(Cernak) was holding my leg, it was reactionary, I was just trying to get him off me, kick him off me.”
At least he was honest about kicking Cernak, though I’m not sure that’s going to wash at the hearing. Kassian is also coming off another recent suspension for the Matthew Tkachuk flap, which doesn’t bode well for the Oilers enforcer, either.
Though a lack of injury to Cernak works in Kassian’s favor, it’s the intent that is disturbing here. Had Cernak bent over even slightly when Kassian went to kick him, we could have seen a death on the ice – and that’s not hyperbole; he could have slit his throat. It doesn’t take much force for razor-sharp skate blades to do damage and Kassian should know that.
So what should the punishment be? Chris Simon got 30 games for stomping on the ankle of Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu in 2007 and you would think that the NHL has gotten more progressive since then – though, to be fair, Simon had been suspended for 25 games the prior season for slashing Ryan Hollweg of the Rangers in the face (the ban started near the end of one year and ended during the following campaign). But after simply giving Boston’s Zdeno Chara a $5,000 fine for a cross-check to the throat of Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher the other night, it’s hard to say what Kassian’s punishment will be.
In my opinion, you have to go strong here. It’s not even close to a hockey play, so there’s no reason Kassian should have even thought about kicking. It’s also extremely dangerous and all parties involved are lucky that Kassian hit Cernak’s padded chest with his skate blade.
Do I expect 30 games? Reader, I do not. Logic says 15 games would be a deterrent that would remind Kassian not to do something so dumb in the future, but pragmatically I could see the DOP going with 10. Cynically, I think they’ll go five since suspensions seem to top out there this year (Corey Perry got five for his elbow on Ryan Ellis at the outdoor game in Dallas – that’s the longest on-ice ban so far this season).
Whatever the result, it’s a bad look for Kassian.
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