If you’re the betting type, here’s hoping you took the under on the suspension levied against Zack Kassian. More than four hours after the Edmonton Oilers winger sat down to meet with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, the decision has come down: a paltry seven-game ban.
Stunning about the suspension is not only its length, but its length paired with what seemed as if it was the perfect storm for the Department of Player Safety to come down swiftly and mightily on Kassian and throw the book at him for the most boneheaded of boneheaded plays. Consider the background: Kassian is a repeat offender who was playing just his eighth game since returning from the two-game suspension he earned for the bare-knuckle beating he put on the Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk. And then consider the crime: Kassian thrust his skate, blade first, at an opponent. Seemingly the only thing working in Kassian’s favor was that Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak was not injured on the play.
Clearly, though, the Department of Player Safety decided not to bring the hammer down. Instead, for kicking at an opponent with his skate blade, an action that very well could have cost Cernak weeks or months or more had all involved gotten far more unlucky, Kassian will be sidelined for little more than two weeks.
What's mind-boggling is that the video coinciding with the seven-game decision gave viewers every reason to believe the Department of Player Safety was about to banish Kassian for a considerable amount of time. In fact, if one were to pause at the exact moment before the length of the suspension is about to be announced, one would guess Kassian was staring down double digits.
In the video, acknowledged is “Kassian’s argument that he was trying to disentangle from the pile of players” and the Department of Player Safety agreed with Kassian and the Oilers that the play was “not malicious.” But that’s followed by the Department of Player Safety stating, in no uncertain terms, that those factors “in no way (justify) this action,” not long after noting that while force is “always an important consideration for both on-ice officials and our department…we must emphasize that using a skate blade to make intentional or reckless contact with an opponent, regardless of the purpose, is entirely different from a hit that involves a player’s body or stick as there is minimal force required to dangerously cut and injure an opponent.”
But there’s no follow through. From there, the Department of Player Safety stops short. There’s no double-digit ban. There’s no real sense of justice. There’s only what will in the eyes of many amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
And what’s almost unbelievable is that even if the Department of Player Safety tricks itself into believing this is an honest-to-goodness punishment, the reality is Kassian and the Oilers both got off easy. Not to kick a dead horse with the blade of a skate, but it is worth reiterating: Kassian is a repeat offender who received a suspension not barely three-times the length of his prior ban despite this being his second meeting with the Department of Player Safety in less than one month and that this incident is inarguably far more dangerous than the last.
That is to say nothing, either, of how thankful the Oilers should be that seven games is all Kassian is getting. To be sure, Kassian is a talented player who has experienced a career renaissance in Edmonton and has already posted a career-best 30 points this season. He is – scratch that, was – on pace for 21 goals and 45 points. The seven-game ban will get in the way of him actually achieving those numbers, but he’ll still return for the stretch run. When he’s eligible to return against the Nashville Predators on March 2, there will still be 18 games remaining in the Oilers’ season.
Truly, if there’s any punishment here, it’s only that Edmonton will be without Kassian at the exact moment they need him most. After missing the post-season in each of the past two seasons, the Oilers find themselves in the hunt for a playoff berth and potentially even home-ice advantage in the first round. Hindering their pursuit, however, is the recent loss of captain and offensive mastermind Connor McDavid, who is likely to be sidelined through the trade deadline. Without McDavid, the Oilers needed every offensive contributor and top-six caliber forward available to be operating at their best. And Kassian, who ranks fifth in average ice time among Oilers forwards with at least 50 games played and is their fifth-highest scorer, was one of those players.
And maybe, if we look really hard and talk ourselves into it, that's enough punishment – that Kassian's actions will hurt his team where it matters most, the standings, at a time they can ill afford to be dropping points. But as has far too often been the case this season in matters involving the Department of Player Safety’s delivery of justice, it still feels as though it’s not enough.
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