So, the Edmonton Oilers traded goaltender Ben Scrivens, a young man who is the dictionary definition of a model citizen, to the Montreal Canadiens for forward Zack Kassian, who is without question something less than that. The Oilers traded a good guy for a bad guy. What are we to make of this?
I don’t know Zack Kassian. I’ve never met him. I’ve never talked to or interviewed him. All I know of him is what I’ve seen, what I’ve read and what I’ve heard. None of which has left me, to understate, a particularly good impression of him. I don’t like any of it.
What we know is Kassian busted Sam Gagner’s jaw with a careless high stick in a pre-season game while a member of the Vancouver Canucks. What we know is that, in a return game with the Oilers during the regular season, he taunted Gagner about the injury he inflicted and compounded that by refusing to fight Luke Gazdic, who was looking for retribution.
What we know is Kassian was injured in an early morning wreck last October involving a truck he was riding in. That incident landed Kassian in the hospital with a broken foot and other injuries and in the second stage of the NHL’s substance abuse program. What we know is Kassian was involved in a bar fight and charged with assault during the 2010 off-season.
What we know is Kassian completed the program after the latest incident, was cleared to play Dec. 15 and was placed on waivers and told not to report to the AHL. The Habs didn’t want him. Now, as we learned today via a very brief news release, Kassian is an Oiler, acquired for Scrivens. He’ll report to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
Given what we know about Kassian, it’s easy to mount one’s high horse and ride off into the sunset of outrage and indignation. He’s a ruffian, a cowardly one at that, with a substance abuse problem. On top of that, Kassian has been tagged as a lazy, coach-killing under-achiever. What is Peter Chiarelli doing, acquiring a bad act like that?
The other end of the spectrum is to dismiss what we’ve seen, read and heard about Kassian’s off-ice issues. You know, he’s a young guy having some fun who made some mistakes . . . That line of thinking is swayed, of course, by the fact that Kassian might prove to be a pretty good player if he ever figures things out and applies himself. He’s big. He has some skill. If you can land that kind of commodity for an AHL goaltender with a save-percentage in the .800s and no future in the organization, you take a chance.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I thought Kassian looked like a clown when he mocked Gagner. I thought him a coward when he refused to fight Gazdic, but that’s tied mainly to my inclination to believe that you better expect, and be ready, to answer the bell after you bust somebody’s face with your stick, not skulk away and mock the guy you injured.
For me, the off-ice issues are the bigger concern. If booze is the problem it appears to be with Kassian, it’s a tough monkey to get off your back, even if you’re willing and committed to getting help. There have been many inspiring stories scripted by those who manage it. There have been many tragic failures, too.
In the end, Kassian is a reclamation project. The Oilers took a chance on Craig MacTavish back in 1985 and it paid off. That doesn’t lessen or undo the damage done, but it does show people can turn things around if they are committed to making the most of a second chance.
I’d like to think Chiarelli has done his due diligence on Kassian and that there is a reasonable expectation he’s ready and willing to turn a corner and become one of those success stories. I’d like to think Chiarelli and the Oilers will monitor every move Kassian makes – on and off the ice – to ensure he stays on the straight and narrow. In the end, it’s up to the player.
If Kassian does that, maybe what’s essentially a minor league deal, a long shot, turns into a success story. Maybe the Oilers get a good player for a goaltender who isn’t in the plans. If Kassian cannot or will not commit, then the Oilers cut him loose and wish him well. I hope for the former but expect the latter.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.
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