EDMONTON — As a bettor, you’d have a better chance wagering nightly on NHL games than trying to predict the various bans handed down by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
We’re not saying George Parros’ people are always wrong. We are saying, however, that those who try to predict the length of the suspensions that the DoPS metes out usually are. (Including me.)
So it was with the two-game ban handed to Zack Kassian on Monday night, a suspension that we were instructed would mirror the three games that Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse received when he straightened out an unwilling combatant in Roman Polak four seasons ago.
Or perhaps a one-game bit, considering that it was Tkachuk’s old school body checks — but new school fighting protocol — that played a major role in the whole thing. If Tkachuk drops his gloves like most guys who hit that hard, we’d have stopped talking about this whole affair two days ago.
In the end, the DoPS gave Kassian two games for rag-dolling Tkachuk, who they correctly deemed to be an “unwilling combatant.” It is a fair and accurate suspension to these eyes, and Kassian will miss games this week against Nashville and Arizona.
The good news?
When Tkachuk and the Flames arrive in Edmonton for a Jan. 29 rematch, Kassian will be back in the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup. And assuming nothing crazy happens, they’ll both line up again in their Feb. 1 meeting in Calgary (rubs hands together.)
The league gets its discipline, but fans in both cities get to see a renewed Battle of Alberta that is fully staffed. So we’re all good, and we even get a video to watch that explains the call.
The video tweeted out by DoPS is informative, as it walks us through the altercation on Saturday night in Calgary — for which Tkachuk was not penalized, while Kassian got a double-minor and a 10-minute misconduct.
It showed us a hard hit by Tkachuk on an unaware Kassian, who had the puck behind Calgary’s net and was being checked/engaged by Calgary defenceman Mark Giordano. In an earlier piece, we explained why some current and former NHL players didn’t like the hit, as Tkachuk saw a vulnerable Kassian and unloaded on him.
It was the second such hit of the night, and when Kassian rose from the ice, he was madder than a hornet. Tkachuk might have gotten away, but Connor McDavid — of all people — gave him a guiding shoulder, directing Tkachuk back toward Kassian.
From here, the commentary on the video becomes bizarre.
“Kassian attempts to grab Tkachuk, who is focused on following the puck up the ice for an offensive chance,” the video says.
Focused on following the puck? How about focused on anything or anybody other than the guy he just steamrolled?
Focused on getting the heck out of there.
“Kassian…throws a series of forceful punches, that are directed at Tkachuk, who is an unwilling combatant.”
This much is true, and for raining punches on a player who made the choice not to fight back — Tkachuk literally buried his head in his gloved hands — Kassian received a two-game suspension.
The reality is that Tkachuk couldn’t quite get away, much thanks to McDavid. Unwilling to find a willing partner, Kassian fought anyhow. That qualifies Tkachuk as an “unwilling opponent.”
At Monday’s morning skate in Montreal, Tkachuk was asked if he should have fought Kassian.
“If it was a different type of player, maybe. Maybe somebody closer to me out there, maybe,” Tkachuk said. “But it wasn’t the right time to do it, against the right person.”
Someone “closer to me?” We wonder what that means.
Tkachuk puts few restrictions on who he will hit, how hard he’ll hit them, or how vulnerable they are. When it comes to fighting however, he seems to have an arm’s length of boxes to be checked off before engaging.
He’s old school when he has the advantage, new school when he thinks he may not.
“I have a feeling half the people in this league wouldn’t go with that guy,” he said. “I just think I’d rather be out there, than in the box with him. And I’m sure if you ask the rest of my teammates, they’d rather me be out there, instead of taken off the ice for however long with him. They’d rather keep me on the ice, that’s for sure.”
When it comes to scoring goals? Unquestionably.
When it comes to finishing what Tkachuk starts?
We’re not so sure.
“It is important to note,” the video concludes, “that at no point does Tkachuk have an opportunity to square up, drop his gloves, or do anything other than protect himself from the punches being thrown.”
Like we said, trying to predict these bans is bad business.
And trying to understand the reasoning can be even more difficult.