Oilers’ Kassian on upcoming reunion with Tkachuk, reigniting Flames rivalry

HC analyst Brian Burke joins Lead Off to weigh in on the Matthew Tkachuk vs. Zack Kassian rivalry, says he would've preferred no action from the league, but says Tkachuk will probably have to fight Oilers, but doesn’t have to be with a heavyweight like Kassian.

The puck drops on the 2020 NHL All-Star Game this weekend, but for hockey lovers in Alberta, the main event might actually come a few days later.

There’s no doubt the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers faithful have Jan. 29 circled on their calendars, the date marking the first reunion between the two clubs since Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian‘s fireworks in the last Battle of Alberta meeting spurred a week of debate throughout the hockey world.

It was the young Tkachuk who kicked things off with a pair of controversial checks on Kassian. The big-bodied Oilers’ response drew a two-game suspension and started a widespread conversation in hockey circles about which of the two battlers was in the wrong.

Kassian joined former Vancouver Canucks teammates Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler for the duo’s podcast, the Kes & Juice Podcast, to discuss the reignited Battle of Alberta.

“It’s been eventful, to say the least,” Kassian told the pair when asked how his week’s been. “Alberta’s buzzin’ right now, which is a good thing. It’s good for hockey.”

While there has been plenty of discussion of late about whether Tkachuk’s hits were predatory, whether Kassian’s response was justified, and whether the former now owes the latter a tussle when they meet next week, the Oilers veteran says he’s just glad to see the historic Albertan rivalry reignited.

“At the end of the day, people that have played the game, or know anything about the game, know this is a fun time,” Kassian told Bieksa and Kesler. “The way the game has evolved, there’s not too many instances like this anymore to get the Battle of Alberta rejuvenated. Obviously the hits — we disagree. And that’s the way it is. That’s the way hockey is.

“…At the end of the day, we’ve created a rivalry. I’m sure it’s going to be fun games against Calgary for not just one game but for many years to come now, since this is spiced up a little bit.”

The 28-year-old also said he doesn’t expect the next meetings — Edmonton and Calgary play twice next week, with games on Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 — to cross over into controversial territory, but that there will certainly be some physicality thrown into the mix.

“They’re a good team, we’re a good team, we’re fighting to get into the playoffs. Who doesn’t like this in hockey? It’s been in the game for so long. Obviously, Tkachuk’s a good player, but I felt I was taken advantage of. And the good thing is I think we play two times in the next three games when we get back, so it’s going to be fun,” he said.

“Obviously there’s going to be nothing dirty going on, but it’s going to ramp up the game, it’s going to ramp up the intensity, and it’s fun. You guys know, you guys thrived in these games as well — they need more of it. It’s a fun game to play. I’m excited.”

For what it’s worth, Kesler and Bieksa — each of whom logged more than a decade in the big leagues — weighed in with their thoughts on the Kassian vs. Tkachuk rivalry as well.

“I like the hit. How about that? I actually like the hit,” Bieksa said. “I think it’s illegal now because of the suspensions that Raffi (Torres) got, and Steve Downie, so for me it’s kind of confusing from a league perspective. Like, why didn’t the league suspend him or at least look at it? But if I’m a teammate of Tkachuk’s, I love the hit.

“… If you’re an Oilers fan, you’re saying it’s a [expletive] dirty hit, the league has outlawed these hits. It’s an unsuspecting player who’s engaged in a battle, it’s predatory. That’s the definition basically of what a predatory hit is, and what targeting a player is. But I love Kassian’s response.”

“But if Tkachuk’s going to play like that, he has to fight. Period,” Kesler added. “You picked the wrong guy, you’re going to have to fight him.”

The former Canucks and Anaheim Ducks veterans both played a physical style during their NHL tenures, causing controversy at times as well and combining for 89 total bouts during big-league stints.

“I think we both fought guys tougher than us — I know I have. I know I’ve lost probably the majority of my fights. But you know, you gotta at least throw, right? You can’t just turtle like he did after you throw two clean-but-dirty hits,” Kesler said. “That’s the problem with the game right now — there’s no accountability and there’s no respect for certain players.

“I love that Kassian’s receiving so much respect from other players and GMs around the league. Everybody that knows the game of hockey thinks what Kassian did was right.”

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