Zack Kassian’s career path was supposed to mirror Milan Lucic’s. Or so the Buffalo Sabres hoped when they drafted him 13th overall in 2009, three years after the rival Bruins had added a big, strong beast who could fight and score in Boston.
Today, Kassian’s career path more closely resembles the fortunes of Ben Eager, the big, fast first-rounder who simply could not figure out how to play the game on or off the ice. Today, at age 31 and after several concussions, Eager is out of chances, out of the game.
On Monday morning the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers announced a trade: goalie Ben Scrivens, banished by Edmonton to the American Hockey League to run out this final year of his contract, for Kassian, fresh out of his second tour through the NHL and NHLPA’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program.
After being in a car with two women that hit a tree in the wee hours — breaking his foot and nose while impaired — Kassian used up his last life in Montreal, the way he had in Vancouver before. Scrivens was done in Edmonton, and with both players on the final years of their contracts, this trade amounts to two things:
Montreal washes its hands of a player who disrespected the organization, while giving him a chance elsewhere; Edmonton gets a six-foot-three power forward who brings size and an abrasive style they dearly need, fully recognizing the fact that Kassian is a major project.
Kassian will report to AHL Bakersfield. The Oilers will trust in the NHL/NHLPA program, and in the fact that this player is — at 24 years of age — staring at perhaps his final chance in the game. If Kassian does not or can not get his priorities in order with Edmonton, his NHL career could be over. If he does, the terminally light and soft Oilers could have a role player with size – something they dearly require.
Kassian’s agent Rick Curran had this to say: “Zack is appreciative of the efforts of (GM) Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens to accommodate him. Knowing he was looking forward to an opportunity to come back, play, and show people he has learned his lessons. He’s doing everything he can on and off the ice to rehabilitate himself, and he wouldn’t have that opportunity had Marc Bergevin not afforded him that chance.”
Well, we wouldn’t have given up a sixth round pick for Kassian, but Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli gave up nothing in the trade. The Oilers retain 24 per cent of Scrivens’ salary to keep the cap hits exactly what they were for both teams prior to the trade, dealing a player who would never have played for them and getting one back who might.
Integrating the former Canuck into Edmonton’s room could be touchy. The memory of a heinous cheap shot that busted the well-liked Sam Gagner’s jaw one pre-season still exists, as does the dueling recollections of Kassian mocking Gagner later on while refusing to answer the bell to Luke Gazdic.
All of that is bad form, though it’s no secret that Kassian has lacked form in many areas in his short and disappointing career.
Folks in Vancouver who mocked the Kassian for Brandon Prust trade perhaps have more insight now, while Oilers fans will only see Kassian in Edmonton if he passes the test in the minors.
Montreal has goaltending issues that have been exposed by Carey Price’s long-term injury. That Scrivens (.893 save percentage in the AHL, though playing better of late) can be seen as the answer is a long shot, however. Could he provide short-term help in Montreal? Sure.
There is no fear of Kassian being a bad influence on the young Oilers. His leash will be short, and there isn’t a player in the league who wishes to follow Kassian’s path. Not one you want, anyhow.
The only risk here is for Kassian himself. This cat is on his ninth life.
It’s time to get it right, or find a day job.