Zack Kassian’s 20-game suspension this week has probably made him persona non grata for many fantasy hockey GMs.
After all, in many fantasy hockey formats, reliability is an important factor. Many GMs don’t want a guy who can snap and get long suspensions.
But before you dismiss Kassian as nothing more than a nut-job or a head-hunter, keep in mind the 20-game suspension is more than a reflection of the severity of his most recent transgression. He was a repeat offender, and in the afterglow of the Michael Liambas ban, Dave Branch had a lofty precedent.
Although Kassian’s hit deserved a suspension, I think a 20-game ban was too much. Replays show that Kassian left his feet, but not until after impact. That, and the fact the puck was passed to the player he hit, should have mitigated the suspension. It doesn’t appear that it did. Yes, the puck was deflected by Kassian’s teammate and it was an illegal play, but I think Kassian was dealt with harshly.
Full disclosure, here, I own Kassian in my hockey pool, but I see this as a watershed moment for the big winger.
It should make him realize he needs to rein it in a bit. Kassian was probably pumped that he was traded to his hometown Windsor Spitfires and wanted to make an impression for the hometown fans. Clearly, based on their reaction to his lopsided fight win after the hit, there are many Windsor fans who love his style of hockey.
Kassian’s junior career reminds me a bit of another former Peterborough Pete and Windsor Spitfire who is finally making himself a valuable contributor in fantasy hockey – Steve Downie.
Downie is thriving under the tutelage of Rick Tocchet. Tocchet, who combined skill and snarl as well as anyone when he was in the NHL, was also known to go over the edge and wasn’t afraid of anyone.
One of my favourite Rick Tocchet stories stems from a heated game between the Rangers and the Penguins in the 90s. The Rangers players were taking some liberties with Mario Lemieux and Rick Tocchet took it upon himself to speak to Rangers’ captain Mark Messier about it.
Although there was no microphone to record the conversation, the story goes that Tocchet told Messier the manhandling of Lemieux should stop, unless Messier wanted a taste of it himself. Coming from anyone else, Messier probably would have scoffed at the threat. But coming from Tocchet, Messier knew he wasn’t joking and that Tocchet was prepared to exact the pound of flesh from Messier himself if need be. Perhaps it was the look in Tocchet’s eyes.
Ask any collector what makes something valuable and they’ll tell you rarity is the biggest factor. That’s why Zack Kassian climbed up the draft charts last season and made the Buffalo Sabres select him 13th overall.
The rapid development of Boston Bruins left winger Milan Lucic also has some NHL teams – and fantasy GMs in leagues that count PIMs – get the next version.
Kassian doesn’t shy away from the Lucic comparisons, although he’s quick to admit that has a lot of work to do before he gets there. For now though, it’s safe to say he plays the same style of game. Kassian is the kind of player who will go hard to the net. He can create space for himself and his teammates and contribute offensively with playmaking or scoring. He has a deceptively quick, hard shot.
Kassian also loves to fight and is willing to stick up for himself or any teammate. His skill as a fighter is well-known and many opponents have felt the sting of his left hand.
He doesn’t fight very often and doesn’t go looking for it, but because of the way he loves to throw hits, he has to defend himself a lot.
He needs to use the same restraint that he uses on fighting on his hitting.
Kassian earned some notoriety last winter when he lowered the boom on John Tavares at the Top Prospects Game. Afterward his comments in the media were seen by some as evidence that he was head-hunting and trying to make a name for himself by going after the No. 1 prospect for this summer’s NHL draft.
Some comments made by him after that game rubbed some people the wrong way, but Kassian was just responding to a reporter’s question, he told me when I did a profile on him for ISS.
“I wasn’t looking for him at all, I was backchecking,” Kassian said. “He’s dangerous around the net, so I didn’t want to let him go.”
Kassian suffered a shoulder injury earlier this season and his development stalled in Peterborough. He was not developing and was making some of the same mistakes over and over. The change of scenery was good for him, and his new coach Bob Boughner, should have a good influence on him. Boughner likes his players to play tough, but this suspension will help reinforce the message that Kassian can’t cross the line.
Like Downie, Kassian lost his father at a young age. Downie’s dad died in car accident and Kassian’s father died of heart ailment. If Zack Kassian gets the benefit of a strong mentor like Downie did, he still has a future as an NHL player.
Upside: 20-30-50, 180 PIMs.