Zack Kassian broke a guy’s jaw, so he’s probably in trouble [VIDEO]

Does this look like the face of a man who does anything on purpose?

Ever since the hiring of John Tortorella, it’s been assumed that, barring a major mishap, Zack Kassian would be opening the season skating alongside the Sedins in place of Alex Burrows. Yeah, about that. Saturday night in Edmonton, there was a major mishap.

On Sunday morning, the Oilers announced that Sam Gagner, a pretty important part of their forwards corps as the only guy without a hyphen in his name capable of playing centre in their top six, would miss a significant amount of time due to injury. The injury: a broken jaw, suffered when Kassian caught him with a high-stick. See for yourself:

This is terrible, of course, and Gagner’s loss is a devastating blow to a fanbase that think maybe, just maybe, the Oilers might be competitive this year, but my first thought is that this isn’t a suspendable incident. I understand that a dude got his jaw broken, but this looks, to my eyes, like an unfortunate accident — not unlike the time Matt Cooke inadvertently sliced Erik Karlsson’s achilles tendon on an equally bungled hit.

But it would appear the NHL sees it differently: Kassian has a hearing with the Department of Player Safety scheduled for Monday. Worse, he was offered the option of doing the hearing in-person, an indication that, in the words of Bane, his punishment must be more severe. Kassian may very well be about to have his back broken before being thrown into a pit.

First of all, a word on intent: I don’t see any here. I don’t think you always have to have intent to injure in order to get suspended, of course, but in the case of these high-sticking infractions that cross the line into supplemental discipline, I do think you have to have intent to do something.

The case that comes to mind, for me, was Pierre Marc-Bouchard getting suspended two games back in October of 2011 for high-sticking Matt Calvert in the mouth, knocking out three teeth in the process. It was an accident. Bouchard’s intent appeared to be to slash Calvert somewhere in the torso, but Calvert wound up lifting the stick as it came around, and up it went into his mouth.

“It was just a bad accident,”  Bouchard said at the time. It was just a battle there on the faceoff. He comes after me before the puck drops, and we go at it. He lifts my stick and it hits him in the mouth. I’m not that kind of player. I was not aiming for his mouth.”

Right. But if you swing your stick at a guy and it accidentally gets him in the mouth, one might ask why you were swinging your stick at that guy. That’s a great way to accidentally get a guy in the mouth. I think you have to reap the consequences there.

The same principle applied when Duncan Keith chopped Jeff Carter in the face last postseason. Said Brendan Shanahan, in explaining Keith’s one-game suspension: ”Although Keith asserts that he did not intend to hit Carter in the face or hit him with such force, he does admit to intentionally swinging his stick at Carter as Carter is skating away from him.”

The difference that I see in the Kassian incident is that this isn’t, to my eyes, an instance of Kassian attempting to hit Gagner with his stick anywhere. He misses badly on the check, and as he swings around and hits the boards, he tries to regain his balance and winds up swinging the stick around with some admittedly insane force. To my eyes, there’s no intent there. There isn’t even intent to slash in the first place. It’s just a thing that happens.

That’s Kassian’s explanation as well. ”I was going to try to hit him and he stopped quick,” he told The Province. “I went with the shoulder and lost control and swung my stick and hit him in the face. The guy has a broken jaw. You never want to see that happen. But if you look at the replay, it’s hard to purposely tomahawk and swing your stick and hit somebody in the face.”

Understandably, Oilers fans aren’t buying it. They see it much, much differently. Maclean’s columnist Colby Cosh sees it as a reckless, stupid, deliberate act, much like disagreeing with him.

 

Meanwhile, the normally sensible Tyler Dellow, one of the best hockey bloggers in Edmonton or anywhere, was willing to go so far as to call it borderline criminal, citing the legal precedent set by Marty McSorley’s two-hander to Donald Brashear.

 

This is unfortunate for two reasons: both because, again, Dellow is normally more reasonable, and because the moment I find myself arguing against the criminality of a nasty hit, as a Canucks fan, it sends me a decade back in time, and I’d rather not be in a place to be compared to the Bertuzzi defenders.

Granted, claiming this is a case for the authorities is akin to the hysteria we saw out of Ottawa last year, with Eugene Melnyk hiring forensic analysts, or Montreal fans back a few years back calling 911 after Zdeno Chara hit Max Pacioretty into the divider. I honestly don’t see how you can go to aggravated assault on this incident unless you’ve been made a little crazy by what it means for you as an Oilers fan. (I hate saying that, though, because calling out fan bias to dismiss opinions with which you disagree is really just a race to the bottom. It’s also a great way to insulate yourself from the rigours of independent thought and to avoid facing your own biases. Dellow indicated he might write a post on the criminal angle, and if he does, I look forward to reading it with an open mind.)

But, all this said, I do see two fairer interpretations of this hit that put it in big-time suspension territory (and no, neither of them are “the league is out to get the Canucks”, so take the tintoil off your head and put it back on the ham where it belongs).

The league might see this incident as closer to Bouchard and Keith. They could argue that, like those two buffoons, Kassian’s act of dumbassery — which broke a dude’s jaw, remember — is the result of an attempt to swing for the midsection gone wrong due to his loss of balance. I don’t see it that way, but I can see how others might. If you think Kassian swung his stick with intent, even if the intent wasn’t to catch Gagner in the face, then by all means, ban him to kingdom come. My opinion on these incidents is the same: if you swing your stick at a guy, you’d better be prepared for the off-chance that you do the sort of damage that would stun a zombie, as well as the consequences therein.

The league might also decide that, accidental or not, this was a hit to the head and is suspendable for that reason alone. Sure, it was a wild stick, not a wild elbow, but rather than see it in the same vein as Cooke on Karlsson, the league might see it in the same vein as the other botched hits that connect with the head.

It’s not like those, of course, and I think this interpretation of the hit isn’t really a fair one, but it’s also not fair that Gagner has a broken jaw, and once you land in headshot territory, regardless of how you got there, you’re often at the mercy of the DOPS cops.

A suspension is coming. That’s a rough break for Kassian, but probably not as rough as Gagner’s, so it’s tough to feel too sorry for him.

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32 comments

  1. Naturalmystic
    September 22, 2013

    5 game suspension is my guess. Losing Gagner is a huge loss but the team isn’t going anywhere. A vicious extended early season road trip, a weak defense core, lousy coaching staff(I’m not talking about Eakins) and general manager and president ensure that the Oilers will be riding the short bus to mediocrity for the next couple of seasons. As a fan of the Oilers since they joined the NHL I can only shake my head at the farce this team has become. Lowe and the rest of the 80′s Oilers must have some dirt on Katz, there can be no other explanation for the hiring of MacT as GM.

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  2. Neil B
    September 22, 2013

    I’d go with 5 games as well. A player needs to have control of his stick at all times; even without intent, you can’t just flail about with the lumber & then cry “whoopsie-doodle” if someone gets hurt. (The tinfoil hat does go back on if this incident results in a longer suspension for Kassian than Clarkson, of course.)

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    • shoes
      September 23, 2013

      Comparing apples to oranges. Clarkson gets 10 mandatory games, no grey area. Kassian gets whatever the wheel stops at , but the question is. Is this a precedent or is it more like the SCF Rome suspension that was a one-off ruling, and doesn’t apply to any other similar incident.?

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  3. Darren
    September 22, 2013

    A player who loses control of his stick and makes contact with an opponent’s face and cuts them, gets the same punishment (on-ice) as someone with an intentionally high stick. I think the same principle applies – you are responsible for the damage your stick does to your fellow player’s face even if you say you didn’t mean to and are really,really convincing when you say it. Kassian should get 5 games and be grateful it’s not more. The NHL needs to crack down on anyone reckless enough to through a wild hit like Kassian attempted when the result is you can’t control where your stick ends up and it smashes the face of a fellow player. If that’s Kassian’s game, who needs it? Less thuggery in my NHL, please.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      September 23, 2013

      Largely agree, but the thuggery label is grossly misplaced. Reckless it was, thug-like it was not.

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    • peanutflower
      September 23, 2013

      Thuggery? That’s kind of a misplaced observation.

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  4. OH-VEE
    September 22, 2013

    Anyone who argues that this or any other event that happens between players in a professional hockey game should also archive that the police should set up speed traps at Nascar races.

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    • SM
      September 23, 2013

      This, not so much. However, there have been times where the police should’ve been involved. The only name that needs to be mentioned is Chris Simon. When he stomped on Ruutu’s leg (completely on purpose) or his two-handed slash to the face of Hollweg. He really belonged in jail rather than on the ice.

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  5. Smokey
    September 22, 2013

    Let me be the first to say it here: THE LEAGUE IS OUT TO GET THE CANUCKS!!!

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    • Harrison Mooney
      September 22, 2013

      Bill Daly: “Why did we let the Canucks in the league? I hate them. We should get rid of them.”
      Gary Bettman: “No. Every now and then, at completely arbitrary times, let’s just minorly inconvenience them FOREVER bwahahahahahahahah”

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  6. shoes
    September 23, 2013

    I can live with a suspension to Kassian, but why would it be a worse suspension than “Simpering Sheriff Shanny” gave to Duncan Keith. And last year when “hallsy” of the Oilers 2 handed Michalek. Hall admitted he did it on purpose. The NHL never commented on it.

    Does the NHL know the meaning of fair and unbiased? Or does the simpering wonder boy just do what his boss, Collie (ex-simperer) tell him to do. Somebody should tell Shanny to talk in a normal voice when delivering his suspensions. No simpering allowed.

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  7. jay
    September 23, 2013

    You need a reality check. Does Kassian not know where Gagner is on the ice? The Canucks iced a lineup of thugs for that game that did nothing but take cheap shots all game.

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    • shoes
      September 23, 2013

      As usual, Oiler fans feel anything done TO their team is the end of the world and the “worst ever”. Anything done BY their team is justified and fair. Doesn’t really matter the incident. The mullets are some of the worst homers in the universe.

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  8. Mondo Bizarro
    September 23, 2013

    The Duncan Keith shot in the playoffs was more intentional than the Kassian shot. Keith got one game. The general consensus has been that one game is equal to 4 in the regular season. So 4 is on point, but honestly, given that suspensions by the NHL are usually beyond the comprehension of normalcy, I’d say we can expect a suspension from anywhere between 1 and 35 games.

    (My personal opinion is that Kassian is a complete idiot for the hit, and deserves 3 games for stupidity. But then I felt Keith’s playoff shot was a minimum of 5 given that he deliberately swung at the guy’s face, and connected.)

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  9. Fitz-P
    September 23, 2013

    From the replay it looks like Kassian tried to hit him, Gagner stopped, Kassian missed and swung his arms trying to regain his balance and lost control of his stick. He had his back to Gagner so I doubt there was any intent. Unfortunate ACCIDENT, that said, you have to be responsible for your stick and Gagner’s jaw is broken. 3 games seems about right, but this is the NHL and this is a Canuck so it’ss be 7-10, if it was Gagner’s stick breaking Kassian’s jaw it would be a game or two, let’s be honest.

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    • peanutflower
      September 23, 2013

      It looks like there’s a mess of Oiler’s fans on here voting logical comments down lol.

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  10. Chris the Curmudgeon
    September 23, 2013

    I think an obvious in-house comparison could be the Hansen hit on Hossa last year. The league decided it wasn’t deliberate, just reckless, but it was to the head so deemed worthy of suspension. He got one game. Kassian could probably receive a little more on account of it being with his stick, and because Gagner will miss time while Hossa did not, but anyone claiming that Zack was aiming for Gagner’s head with his stick while off-balance and not even looking at him must have an extremely thick layer of tinfoil between reality and their brain. I think the Shanahan Wheel of Justice probably falls on about 5 games, if only to teach Kassian that keeping control of your body at full speed is part of being a professional athlete.

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  11. Andrew
    September 23, 2013

    Article written by a guy who sounds like he’s never thrown a body check. Article is then deemed awesome by blind fans. And the cycle is complete.

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  12. Lj
    September 23, 2013

    This is one of the worst artickes I’ve ever read. This writer’s obvious bias is disgusting.

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    • Brent
      September 23, 2013

      I could also argue that is the best artickes I have ever read, but then I don’t know what an artickes are.

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      • Harrison Mooney
        September 23, 2013

        He meant artichokes, Brent. Just forgot a few letters.

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      • Lj
        September 24, 2013

        You could, Brent, but as you haven’t yet figured out how to use context to overlook an obvious mistype, I would question your ability to actually interpret said article.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      September 23, 2013

      Unlike yourself, who are clearly objective and bias-free.

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  13. iain
    September 23, 2013

    i’d guess 5 games too. and maybe it will teach zack that you have to keep your brain engaged at all times when on the ice. which might end up with him becoming more of a good player who can improve the team instead of being a ‘project’…………..

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  14. mb13
    September 23, 2013

    wow – you guys that say this was an accident as a player was trying to regain his balance need to take off the homer glasses.

    He was frustrated he missed his check and thought he’d make contact with anything he could with whatever he could. Did he mean to hit him in the face… probably not. But this was not regaining balance.

    When someone missed a check, usually their shoulder hits the glass – not butt hitting glass as player attempts to swing stick. Just a brutal play.

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  15. Erik
    September 23, 2013

    This is a guy with a history of acting like a complete moron (see OHL) who Gagner made look bad by dodging a wild hit. Kassian still wanted to get a piece of him so he swung wildly.

    Was he aiming for Gagner’s face? Probably not. Was he trying to hurt him? Absolutely. Anyone who thinks that’s an accidental stick swing from losing control has never played hockey or has such dark Canucks goggles on they’re blinded by loyalty. Get real.

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  16. arjay
    September 23, 2013

    so, this swirling move facing away from the victim with his back against the boards which, sadly, DID injure a player equates in severity to Keith’s suspension for a deliberate run and a pile driver elbow straight into the face of the League’s Hart Trophy winner?

    Take off the hard hats, folks—-this was worthy of the 4 minute penalty he rec’d and s b only a one or two suspension for a first time offender (vs Keith’s numerous suspensions and escapes w/out any suspensions on 3 occasions).

    I am sure our wishes that Sam has a full and speedy recovery is far more important than the meaningless whining (yet again) of disenchanted Oiler fans.

    But we do understand it is pre-season and the Oiler ignorati have not yet wound up into full “moan mode” yet—-btw, great win the other night…..your full team was leading 2-1 with 5 minutes left against a team of juniors and rookies.

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  17. Paul fafard
    September 23, 2013

    I am a major oilers fan. I can only see this as a 1 game suspension for careless play unless he has a history of the same thing.

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  18. Brent
    September 23, 2013

    Totally stupid and possibly somewhat intentional hit. He should be suspended, but I have no idea what the proper amount should be, based on previous rulings, some of which are mentioned above.

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  19. Amir
    September 23, 2013

    How does one accidentally swing their stick at another players face?

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  20. IBreakJawsLOL
    September 23, 2013

    Kassian’s swinging momentum was already set before he hit the board with his back. Most players would actually miss their check and hit the board when the opposing player dodges or stops. No one swings their stick to counter balance their weight when they miss their check LOL. This was totally intentional cause he knew exactly where Gagner was LOL Watch the replay on how he played innocent after swinging his stick.

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  21. CanadianHockeyDad
    October 8, 2013

    this wouldn’t have happened if he was wearing a cage.. they take strides to safer play, less concussions, why not put use our heads here and make all the protective equipment available mandatory? Will never make sense to me.

    It seems like a bad situation of a hockey play, he (Kassian) was told to play grinder hockey I’m sure, and Gangner simply tried to dodge a hit (instead of take it) and ended up putting both of them in a bad position, Kassian didn’t look to stable going into the boards, and Gangner ate a stick. What ever happened to steadying yourself for a hit, and letting the game work it out? Kassian wasn’t charging (according the the rule) and it would have been a bump and run for Gangner. The 5 games is respectable, the league did look fairly, this was no means a “Steve Downie” insident.

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