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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Is Zack Kassian expendable?

Everyone knows that the Oilers have to try to improve their roster for the 2018-19 season and everyone knows that management has minimal cap space to work with.

There are a few routes they could go, such as, moving one of their no-movement clauses or bridging Darnell Nurse to save some space. No matter how they choose to construct this team for next year, it’s clear that every dollar counts and they should look at moving every player who could be overpaid.

Which brings me to Zack Kassian.

I loved what Kassian brought to the table in 2016-17, especially in the playoffs (with the exception of a few dirty hits). He was a fast, physical presence in the bottom six and even contributed some offence, scoring 24 points in the regular season and adding three more in the playoffs.

This year, I didn’t see the same impact from Kassian. While he did score seven goals, the same as in 2016-17, I didn’t feel like he had the same impact in other areas of the ice and the number of offensive chances he created actually went down.

This past season, his SCF% (scoring chances for compared to chances against) was second worst amongst regular forwards.

He was third last when you look at how many 5v5 goals he was on the ice for, even though he played 14 games more than Mark Letestu and 24 more than Anton Slepyshev who are the two players below him on that list.

To be fair, only Letestu started in the offensive zone less than Kassian, which certainly hurt his ability to produce numbers. That fact may lead some to the conclusion that his numbers are only bad because he wasn’t given a good opportunity. I’ve even seen some suggest that he should be given a chance on either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl wing.

During this past season, Kassian saw 46 minutes with Connor McDavid. While Kassian’s possession and scoring chance numbers both got a bump up, McDavid’s dropped a sizeable amount.

The sample size with Leon Draisaitl is much smaller, only 26 minutes, and the numbers were actually decent. There was a big bump in both players possession and scoring chance numbers. So there could be an argument that those two players fit fairly well together, and I’d have time for that, but with their sample size being so small, I’d say it’s a long shot.

As far as special teams go, Kassian has had no impact on the powerplay but has helped the penalty kill. He played the second most forward minutes on the PK and was rather efficient when you compare him to the rest of the Oilers penalty killers.

Now, remember that their penalty kill was awful this year, so it really isn’t a high compliment to say he was one of their best killers.

In all likelihood, what the Oilers have with Kassian is a good bottom six player. He can play all 82 games and give you solid minutes and apart from a few big hits, won’t do anything overly special. They’re paying him $1.95 million for the next two seasons.

Dustin Nielson wrote about some bargain bin options the Oilers could look at this offseason. In the list, he mentioned Derek Ryan and Tommy Wingels, both of which can play centre, which Kassian can’t. He also listed Matt Calvert, who has been a good penalty killer for Columbus in the past. Blake Comeau and Tim Schaller were also there, and both of them have higher offensive upside than Kassian.

If the Oilers deal Kassian but grab two guys off that list for under $3 million, wouldn’t their roster be better?

I understand that Kassian is a fan favourite. I personally love the style he plays and don’t doubt that he’s a great guy in the locker room as well. I would be more than happy for the Oilers to keep him on the team because there is a part of me that values the intangibles he brings to the lineup.

At the same time, I can see the Oilers are in a cap crunch and Kassian probably makes $0.75 – $1.0 million too much money. If losing Kassian means that the team can squeeze in a bottom six centre and a better penalty killer, then I think they need to think long and hard about it, even if it upsets the fan base.

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  • Stack

    I would give Zack another season, not many players looked great this past year. I really don’t know how those bargain bin guys play but when Kassian is playing well he plays with heart, something the Oilers have not had since Smytty. Also with Kassian you get the wild card factor, as in you never know when he might slap someone’s face off their head.

    • GK1980

      I agree, like most oilers last season they all struggled. Zach has some swagger but he also showed he has some offensive ability and he does have wheels. I would keep him hi for one more season as well. I think he will rebound.

  • Big Nuggets

    If worse came to worse concerning winger depth a line of Khaira Drai and Kassian would actually be kind of intriguing. Otherwise I think he is pretty expendable. And we should try to give Drai a little more help than that.

    • Arfguy

      I actually would try Kassian on Draisaitl’s wings. I think he has better wheels than a lot of our wingers and I think he needs a few more looks with a top line centre like Draisaitl.

      Agreed that he is expendable in that his contract is not big and he does not have any of those pesky clauses.

  • Moneyball

    Zak disapeared for a large part of the season this year. I did not see him as being very effective at all. I hope a coaching change can bring out the best in his style of play because at 2 million he could be a real steal if we get the 2016/2017 Kassian.

    • crabman

      @Moneyball,

      If they decide to keep him I hope the new staff gets more out of him as well. It will all start with McLellan and how he deployes his lines though. If he doesn’t trust his 4th line and Kassian doesn’t improve on the pk he won’t be used enough to justify a $1.95M payday. Kassian was the 5th highest paid forward on the Oilers but played the 13th most minutes/game for forwards that played at least 30 games. Pakarinen was the only player Kassian averaged more time than. If the plan is to use the 4th line sparingly Kassian will be very overpaid and his cap hit could be better spent elsewhere.

  • toprightcorner

    Not only is Zack expendable, the Oilers NEED to trade him because he is paid $1 mill too much for a 4th liner. I love Zack and what he brings but the Oilers can better add a middle 6 winger with an extra $1 mill to spend

  • camdog

    A fourth liner that can fight and kill penalties, that’s overpayed by about 800,000 per year. Even Vegas has a couple of players like Kassian on their roster playing playoff hockey. Kassian had a bad year last year, he will be better this season. I’ve seen guys get extra penalties because the refs didn’t like him, I’ve never seen guys get goals taken away because of yet, what a frustrating year for him. Coaches were not helpful. Without Maroon and with a young forward group the Oilers need what he brings to the team.

  • crabman

    I like Kassian and the energy he brings. He is a nice guy to have around if things get a little crazy in game and would be a nice guy to have in the lineup during a playoff run. But fir the number of minutes he plays as a 4RW and the fact he hasn’t been a great penalty killer he is a $1.95M luxury we might not have room for. Trading him wouldn’t be my 1st move but if we need to free up $1M to improve the club I would replace his minutes with a $1M or less player that could fill in at C and/or kill penalties.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Pro: He’s a good skater for a big man.
      Con: Very poor at zone exits taking a pass. Not a good passer.
      Pro: He plays a physical style of hockey.
      Con: Sometime takes ill time penalties (based on reputaion too).
      Pro: He skates well enough to be a good checker.
      Con: Not defensively responsible enough to kill penalties or shadow stars.
      Pro: He can be an enforcer when games get physical.
      Con: JJ Kaira and D. Nurse also do this well.

  • NewPants

    Sure it would be nice to have an extra mill or two for a new player but then we will be looking for a Zack type player.
    Keep him unless we’re upgrading him with Wilson or a similar player.

  • Oiler Al

    Expendable,……. he shows up every 10th game or so. Needs to bring it every game.G uy can skate and shoot. Not sure where his head and game IQ are at.
    Afterall he was a 1st. rounder and played a bunch of games with Sedins in Vanc. on the first line.Maybe he gets dizzy!

  • JimmyV1965

    I love Kass. He has a very unique skill set, with his incredible speed, toughness and nastiness. I wouldn’t trade him, unless someone overvalues his skill set and makes an offer you can’t refuse. Ryan Reaves brought in a first round pick and Kassian is a much better player. I would approach the Canes and see if they would be willing to give up RHD Roland McKeown.

    • Gravis82

      Kassian has terrible possession Numbers.

      Bad at preventing and generating shots. Decect scorer though. But not good enough at the other things to make up for his deficiencies or to be trusted with more minutes and not great on the pk

      Other teams know this and wont trade anyone for him

  • Bills Bills

    Everyone is expendable. But the guy brings some intangibles that you can’t always put a price on. On a team that suffers from an apparent lack of speed, he can skate very well. In a division that still has some big and nasty teams to play against. He has some size and an edge. We are talking about someone who elevated their level of play in the playoffs and sticks up for his teammates. I have room for him on my roster.

  • Bills Bills

    Plus I think every team needs that one guy that other teams know could just completely snap. You know, that level of crazy that you know if you cross that line he could potentially kill you. Keeps guys honest. 🙂

  • The Future Never Comes

    He didnt have the same impact this year as he was clearly frusterated from the lack of opportunity and only fourth line minutes. The playoffs the year before showed the skill and game he can bring if he is used more and confidence is instilled. Another blunder on Todds resume from last year.

  • McNugent

    Articles like this are stupid. Theres a good chance Oilers wont even spend to cap.

    Last year all we read about was trading Nuge, clearing cap… and than we sat all year with 8+ million in cap space.

    I highly doubt we even reach the max and if we do it wont have anything to do with 500k extra Kassian makes.

    Maybe take a look at the backup goalie or a guy like Russel and how we can dump him.

    • crabman

      I agree with your assessment that we should look at the $2.5M for a backup goalie and the possiblity of paying a bottom pair defenceman $4M as overlays. But the backup was just signed so he is definitely staying and Russell has a full NMC I doubt he is moved 1 year after signing his contract.
      With McDavid’s new deal kicking in and Nurse needing to be resigned of the team wants to make any significant additions cap will be close to the max this year.
      The numbers bellow are estimates taken from Gregor’s article a few days ago;

      Using Gregor’s numbers in the article;
      Forwards under contract $37.075
      defence under contract $17.833
      goal $6.66
      Pouliot buyout $1.33
      UFA winger $2
      Sproul(7th D option) $750K
      4 RFAs $9.8
      adds up to $75.45M with 2 forwards to sign. No this doesn’t include a bonus cushion for Puljujarvi but it does leave $4.55M for that cushion and 2 bottom roster forwards with an $80M salary cap 

      $75.45M to bring back last year’s team, adding a cheap 7th D and a cheap $2M winger. If Puljujarvi is expected to play in the top6 and has some success he may very well get some of his bonus money and the team will add 2 bottom roster forwards.
      You are right they might not spend to the cap this year but these are all minor additions. If they decide to spend $4M on a winger instead of $2M they will be right up against the cap or if a $4Mish Dman gets sent out in a deal that brings back a player in the $6M range the extra cap is gone there as well.
      Last year Chiarelli cleared a bunch of cap space then didn’t use it. This year he doesn’t have a lot to start with.

      • McNugent

        This is exactly my point.

        If we add a 7 million dollar winger we will hit 80.45 which will still be well below the projected cap of 82 million.

        Do you really think we will be adding a 7 million dollar player? If so this article is relevant.

        If not it’s just another pointless article that has Oiler fans turning on one of our only useful bottom 6 players for no reason.

        • crabman

          @McNugent,

          As of right now the cap is expected to be between $78M-$82M. Most people are using $80M in their projections. In your comment you are counting on the cap going to the max end of the est., don’t plan on Puljujarvi hitting any bonuses, don’t add any salary in a trade to upgrade the team or sign the additional bottom 2 forwards we also need. there will not be $7M left over for a winger to start with. If the cap just goes to $80M and they signed a $7M winger and the 2 other forwards in the bottom of the roster they will need they will start around $3M over the cap.
          Gregor’s roster adds and projected lineup was very modest and came to almost $75.5M. still needing 2 more forwards and before preparing for Puljujarvi to hit any of his ELC bonuses. Right now they have about $4.5M to spend on an upgrade on D or top6 winger with no other significant additions.
          You are right though, if the cap goes up to $82M and the team doesn’t make any significant upgrades there will be cap space.
          I’m not arguing we should replace Kassian. I am saying that if we need around $1M more cap space to make a move that makes the team better the 1st place I look is the 4RW being overpaid by about $1M. If the money isn’t needed I wouldn’t move Kassian.
          I don’t see why you would be bent out of shape over an article, weeks after the Oilers played their last game and weeks before the draft, that basically says the same thing.

  • SailorD81

    There’s an extremely short list of guys last season who were good consistently. If you always trade players after a poor season you will always loose trades. Is Kass overpaid to play 3/4 line mins? Yes. But when he’s on he is very effective in his role.

    • LAKID

      Kassian is on a good contract if the new coaching staff deploys him properly. I mean Lucic playing ahead of him what a joke! Kassian can skate,shoot,pass, be a pain in the ass and fight.Lucic can only fight and there are not to many players that want to fight him. Mind you Lucic probably ended Glass’s career sticking up for that bum of a goalie down south.

  • SRELIOFAN

    While there are many reasons why I think the Oilers should keep Kassian, the only argument that needs to be made can be said in two words: THE CHOPS. You can’t put a price on those beauties!

  • Almost every player on the team is expendable. If you get rid Kassian, are you going to get back a similar player? I doubt you’ll get two good players for under $3m and I bet Derek Ryan gets a healthy raise this summer so doubt he is an option. Based on this teams trading track record I’d hold on to him for one more year.

  • Muleman84

    Wow!! Can we all NOT remember not so long ago that we were ALL going crazy calling for toughness, speed, and a lil crazy in our bottom 6? This board was full of people calling for a player just like Kassian!! I’m getting to the point that our Community NEEDS to stop doing this and let these good players, even if they ya e a tough year, to play without hearing all this negativity for a so so season! They themselves know they need to be better! He is young enough, crazy enough, and skilled enough to be the perfect fit for us!!! Leave him alone!!

    • Gravis82

      the board is not one person. When kassian does good things, people who like kassian say stuff. When he does bad things, people who dont like kassian say stuff.

  • OilCan2

    Keep him. The cap is a non issue in his case. Overpaid? See M Lucic. Zack has a renewed passion and is a poster boy for clean living. Hang on for a really great offer if you have to.

  • GK1980

    I understand the desire to make some moves like the one mentioned in the article, but with the past two seasons being so polar when it comes to success it’s hard to determine what team the Oilers really are. This year will determine if next summer is an overhaul or not.

  • oilerjed

    I, like many others it seems, saw and heard a very frustrated Kassian last season. For me, he is a great third line RW that could slide up in a pinch. He could have easily had 10-15 goals both of the last two season had he had just a bitof puck luck. His bad karma must almost be even by now, right? He has size, hits, speed and some filthy hands. There was a reason he has played on other teams top lines in the past. Keep him and bump his minutes. If he has another flop of a season then it is time to cut bait and unfortunately for Zach this may be his last shot in the NHL.

    • crabman

      @Oilerjed,

      I’ll start off by saying I like Kassian and have time for a player like him in my bottom 6. In a non cap world I don’t even think trading Kassian is a discussion. But I would consider trading him if we need the $1M extra cap space we would save by bringing in a 4RW at a 4th line cap hit.

      Now to play devil’s advocate, Kassian has a career high 29 points. He averages 24 points per 82 games. He is at best a bottom.of the league 3rd liner or top of the league 4th liner. He has been given chances with very good players, the Sedin twins, because he has the tools, he is fast, and big and has a decent shot. But although he has been given opportunities he has never been able to become a top6 player. I think it is because he doesn’t have a high enough hockey IQ. The same reason he isn’t better on the pk but teams keep on trying him there. With his speed, physicality, and size he should be a fantastic penalty killer but he isn’t. Kassian is a useful player and maybe could play a regular shift on the 3rd line but after 2 seasons with McLellan it is clear that isn’t what he thinks and if Kassian is going to only get limited 4th line minutes and less pk time he is over priced at for the role he plays. Like I said in a no cap world this doesn’t matter but as it stands we may very well be paying the 3LW $6M and the 5D $4-5.5M next season and they all have NMC. Kassian may only be paid $1M more than his position dictates but if the team needs that $1M to improve he might need to be moved.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    When evaluating a player, I ask 3 questions.
    1. What does the player bring to the team (what does he do really well?)?
    2. Do we have other players that do the same trait well?
    3. Is there future upside and/or is the contract a good value?
    What does Kassian do better than others??????

    • Moneyball

      Kassian is a good forechecker and plays the body as good as any on the team. He’s fast, has a good shot and is a great 3rd line player. What do you need and extra 500k for in an 80 million cap? A veteran player like Zak who had a season like his would get 1.5 million, of we need 500 k in cap space bury puljujarvi in the minors or trade him.

      • Gravis82

        good forechecker, plays the body, fast, good shot.

        except he is not that great at helping his team outshoot and outscore the opposition. He’s getting paid for those tools, but is actually not that great at playing hockey.

      • crabman

        @Moneyball,

        The narrative that Kassian is a “great 3rd line player” is wrong. He isn’t even a 3rd line player. The last time he logged 3rd line player minutes for a team was 2012-13 where he had the 8th most minutes/game by a forward that played at least 30 games. over the past 5 seasons he has finished, 11th, 11th, 12th, 10th, 13th in minutes per game. that is not a 3rd line player.
        He was the 5th highest paid forward and played the 13th most minutes per game.
        I hope the team doesn’t need his cap space elsewhere and can still ice the best team possible but if they need an extra million to spend on a top 6 winger or in a trade for a top 4 defenceman, or even if we are up against the cap and Chiarelli would like some walking around money at the deadline,I would trade Kassian and replace him with a 4RW at 4RW pay in the $900K-$1M range the position dictates.

        • Moneyball

          @crabman he’s more than a 4th liner. He has moved up and down the lineup and basically won a game himself last playoffs. If you want to look at potential he’s got a lot of it. This is a coaching failure if anything else. Even if he is a 4th liner the overpay is nominal. What does Tom Wilson make per year? 2million and his stats we worse than Kassian until this year.

          • Gravis82

            all it takes to win a game in the playoffs is to score one goal. Most players will randomly score one goal or two at some point, even in the playoffs.

            He has no potential. This is how teams get fooled. He has what looks like good individual skills and should be a good player, but objectively, he is a 4th line player/AHL call-up.

            Sure, he could score more if given more ice time, but you have to ask yourself if there is another player who would do even better with that ice time and not be as liable defensively? Many of them.

            He needs to score the same amount of goals, play the same game AND figure out how to be a positive posession player aginst 3rd/4th line opposition, and break even against 2nd line…then yes, hes a keeper. But right now, no. And probably not ever.

          • crabman

            @Moneyball,

            If it’s a coaching problem it is a problem all of, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault, John Tortorella, Willie Desjardins, and Todd McLellan have made. That’s a pretty impressive group of coaches that all deployed Kassian as a 4th line winger. Are they all wrong? Or perhaps is the person in a hockey blog comment section wrong and values a player more than some of the better coaches did?

            Even if it was a coaching problem I stand by my opinion that if he is only going to be used as a 4th line winger and play less pk he is over paid.

  • Mahaloeh

    I like Zach on the 3rd line with a consistent 12 – 14 mins of ice/game. I also liked Slepy on the 2nd line with Leon & Lucic when they played together in 16/17. Mc seemed to forget about what worked in 16/17 & went in different directions?

  • camdog

    I don’t think this gets mentioned enough, but in the 33 games post All Star break the Oilers penalty kill was second in the league. Rumour I heard on another site is McLellan might have taken over as penalty kill coach. Removing Letestu and Cagguila helped. The remaining roster players played some excellent penalty killing in the final 33 games.

    • IRONman

      Okay wise guys. Let’s get rid of all the goons. Then it’s 2007 all over again. Kassian wants to be here and kills penalties very efficiently. He is not over paid like that dork number 27