Tkachuk’s teammates have his back ahead of Flames-Oilers rematch

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.

TORONTO — Still steaming from a game played three days earlier, Zack Kassian continues to insist it’s incumbent upon Matthew Tkachuk to grant him a fight.

The irony of his ongoing rant is that if anyone owes anyone a dance, it’s Kassian.

With Milan Lucic.

If anyone broke hockey’s code Saturday night, it was the ever-combustible Oilers winger by violently tossing around a star player like Tkachuk while administering a series of vicious lefts.

Even in today’s game such behaviour is punishable by more than just the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. 

A late game visit from Lucic to his former teammate Saturday clearly delivered that exact message: you now have to answer to me.

The question for Jan. 29 when they meet in Edmonton is whether or not Kassian is prepared to practice exactly what he’s been preaching.

Will he stand up and answer the bell?

Surely he understands how hypocritical it would be to defer by suggesting a heavyweight like Lucic is out of his weight class?

The sure-to-be-fascinating answer won’t come for another two weeks, which is why the Flames spent Wednesday trying their best to steer clear of the distraction.

Tkachuk was kept away from the media Wednesday, and his teammates were completely disinterested in fanning the NHL’s topic of the week.

"When the time comes, whatever score needs to be settled will be settled," said Lucic, one of the most feared players in the game today.

"I know for a fact everybody’s got everybody’s back in this locker room. Talk is just talk."

Kassian has been doing plenty of it since the incident late in the second period of Saturday’s game, when he took exception to the second of three targeted-but-clean hits by Tkachuk, prompting the costly, unanswered attack.

The price tag on Kassian’s overzealousness promises to be far more than the two games and $21,000 in lost salary.

By calling his shot and announcing his intention to exact revenge on Tkachuk, the 28-year-old winger has painted himself into a corner.

Need we bring up the perils of the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident to illustrate the dangers of essentially sending threats through the media?   

The man who has crossed plenty of lines in his career will have the eyes of the hockey world on him every time he and Tkachuk co-exist on the ice, making his designs for payback a tough task.

Was Lucic surprised to hear Kassian’s post-suspension rhetoric?

"Kind of, not really," hedged Lucic with an uncomfortable grin.

"He’s an emotional guy who plays with a lot of emotion. He speaks what’s on his mind whether there’s a microphone in front of him or not. 

"I had fun being his teammate for three years, but push come to shove Matt is my teammate and I’ll do whatever I have to to step up for him."

Ditto for Zac Rinaldo, who, at five-foot-11, 192 pounds, is 20 pounds lighter than Kassian, but more than willing to mix it up with him. 

"We’ve got Chucky’s back," said Rinaldo, insistent on limiting his comments and focusing only on the game against Toronto Thursday.

"We’re a team. We’re a family. We love each other in here. We’re not thinking about it."

Captain Mark Giordano also refused to be sucked into any semblance of verbal sparring over the incident.  

"Honestly, the whole ‘through the media’ and all this back and forth — what’s it going to prove?" asked the Toronto native, reiterating the importance of Thursday’s game.

"Whatever presents itself presents itself in that game, but that’s a long ways away. Let’s just worry about the (three) games before we play them again. I don’t think anyone in here is worried about Chucky and what he’s going to bring to the table night in and night out. We’ll have his back when we have to."

"There’s a lot of different opinions. We know what Chucky is. He’s a great teammate and a great player on our team. He’s a big part of our team and he creates so much for us and he helps us win a lot of games. Keep doing what he’s doing."

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No one should blame Kassian for wanting to fight Tkachuk on Saturday — the hits were hellacious and the stakes and emotions were high. Tkachuk has done plenty to infuriate players league-wide who’d love to take a round out of him. 

We’d all love to see that tilt.

Yet, no one should blame Tkachuk for refusing to oblige, as the league confirmed he didn’t cross the line, contrary to what some observers believe. 

His vindication came in the form of the ensuing power-play goal that won Calgary the game.

While ill-advised, Kassian’s delicious WWE-style monologues since the incident have fueled a tantalizingly rare set of storylines in today’s sanitized game.

Lest anyone forget: the NHL is in the entertainment game, and all of this is intriguing theatre.

That’s not to say some haven’t found various aspects of it disturbing, including Giordano. 

"Oh yeah, when it’s your teammate and you’re standing right there," he said, speaking of the violent takedown and beating. 

"It happened quick, but you’d like to see the linesman maybe grab the guy a bit earlier. We feel like we got off (lucky) that he didn’t get hit with a big one and get injured. There’s a lot of different things that could have happened there. But he’s fine and he’s playing tomorrow and we move on."

Interim coach Geoff Ward also has Tkachuk’s back, insisting he doesn’t think his associate captain should feel compelled to change anything about his game.

"From our standpoint we don’t see that there’s any lessons right now that have to be learned," he said.

"We’re not going to tell him to change the way he plays. We expect him to play his game and be himself."


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