Dallas Eakins invokes Bertuzzi/Moore to explain why Oilers didn’t go after Zack Kassian

The Edmonton Oilers don’t like Zack Kassian very much, which isn’t particularly surprising. During a pre-season game, Kassian broke Sam Gagner’s jaw with an errant high stick that many thought was a lot more intentional than careless.

Little to no revenge was had in Kassian’s first game against the Oilers this season. In fact, Kassian got the best of the Oilers, scoring a goal and adding some salt to the wound by mocking Gagner’s face shield, ie. the one he was forced to wear because Kassian broke his jaw.

Unsurprisingly, Oilers fans were out for blood, eager to see someone like Luke Gazdic target Kassian for a little old-school revenge. They didn’t get their wish. Instead, Kassian scored the gamewinning goal.

The Oilers head coach, Dallas Eakins, faced a string of questions related to the Oilers’ physicality and lack of response for Kassian and was eventually pushed to the point he invoked one of the darkest moments in, not just Canucks history, but NHL history.

The video above starts at the beginning of Eakins’ press conference, because there’s some gold early. Eakins shuts down Mark “Moon Knight” Spector after he badgers him with questions about hits, saying that the perfect number of hits is “no hits” because you have the puck for the entire game.

But then the media specifically mentioned Kassian and Eakins started to wonder why. And, unlike John Tortorella, he didn’t respond to the repeated questions by glaring holes through the reporters’ chests and threatening to leave. Instead, he actually answered the questions.

“Are you alluding to retribution on Kassian, is that what you’re going after?” he asked, “To go out of our way in a close game to go seek retribution, to take a dumb penalty, I’m not sure how that helps us. Is that what you’re alluding to?”

They were. So Eakins explained that he thought Gazdic had done exactly what he supposed to do.

“Now I saw talk between a guy on our team that handles that very well and [Kassian] and one player wasn’t willing to engage,” he said, and I’m going to assume he didn’t mean Gazdic wasn’t willing to fight. I’m not entirely sure that is an accurate read of what happened, but it’s true that Gazdic approached Kassian at one faceoff and during a scrum. It seemed like Kassian was trying to goad Gazdic into taking an instigator penalty, but I’m not a mindreader. It’s certainly possible Kassian had no interest in taking himself out of the game with a fight and refused the invitation.

“What else do you do?” Eakins asked, before answering his own question: “Go jump him. Slash him. Cross-check him in the face. Go do something like that. But I’m not sure what that does to helping us win the game, when it’s a close game.”

That’s all well and good. It’s the opposite of how the Canucks have behaved of late, with Tom Sestito tackling an unwilling Jordan Nolan against the Kings and both Sestito and Jannik Hansen doing the same against the Ducks, but it’s a valid view on fighting. Eakins later said that he thinks fights “should be out of anger” and that he strongly dislikes staged fights.

But then he invoked the ugly moment when Todd Bertuzzi ended Steve Moore’s career.

I want our guys to stand up for each other. I don’t want us to be known as a team and you can get yourself in a load of trouble — a load of trouble — and you only have to look back at the Vancouver Canucks quite some time ago, when you pinpoint a guy and you say, ‘Let’s go get him.’ He did this to this player and then something bad happens to that player? Boy, you can find yourself in a lot of trouble. Now, you guys wouldn’t be in trouble. You’d write about all the trouble. But we’d be in a lot of trouble.

No Canucks fan needs to be reminded of what Bertuzzi did, but there seems to be a wide gap between pulling Kassian out of a post-whistle scrum, facewashing him and punching him a couple times and chasing a guy down the ice and punching him in the side of the head when he’s not looking and driving him into the ice.

Was there any need for Eakins to specifically bring up that incident? While he didn’t mention him by name, it’s perfectly clear that he’s referring to Bertuzzi. Perhaps a better question: is he wrong? The Canucks may have gotten some satisfaction from Sestito punching Nolan, but they didn’t win the game, while the Oilers seemed to retain their focus and forced Luongo to make some excellent saves to preserve the one-goal victory.

The one thing he’s absolutely right about: there’s a reason the media may have been more eager to see retribution dealt out to Kassian than Eakin was. There’s no risk for the media. Either way, whether Kassian gets punched or if he gets his neck broken, they get a story and don’t have to deal with the legal and professional consequences.

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21 comments

  1. natevk
    January 21, 2014

    I completely agree with Eakins on this one. Sure, try to goad Kassian into a fair fight, but if that doesn’t work, then move on and play hockey. They tried to get retribution of sorts by working hard to make it a difficult game for the Canucks to take; I can respect that. Maybe I’m in the minority with Eakins, but I’m just not a big fan of assault.

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  2. chocoball
    January 21, 2014

    fighting’s good fun when it’s going with the flow of the game….but these staged incidents of late have been stupid….

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  3. akidd
    January 22, 2014

    ya, it was a pretty revealing exchange actually. you’ve got the media doing their shaming role and if the coach/team cracks and goes after the offender the media writes about that too.–” tsk, tsk why doesn’t your team stand up for itself?”

    it certainly worked that way with the vancouver media about the bertuzzi incident and not a word of contriteness from them about it either. so ya, full marks to eakins for his response, i’d say.

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  4. P
    January 22, 2014

    Hard not to be excited about Kass right now. Glad he didn’t get into any funny business but put in a great effort.

    Seeing signs of some chemistry with Kesler. Liking the looks of a KissKesKass line right now…

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  5. wes
    January 22, 2014

    Excellent questions Daniel, and a great article written in haste! I am not sure what would have been the best course of action for the Oilers, but considering their year is done, perhaps some vindictiveness, a la some Tom Sestito type involuntary beating was more appropriate than trying to eke out a close, meaningless 2 points. Even if Kass was unwilling to fight, what does Edmonton have to lose? They are a joke, as alluded to by even Shorty, near the beginning of the program, where he wondered if the debris on the ice was a letter (hilarious), which of course he meant the apologetic letter recently sent of by Daryl Katz, owner of this sad franchise, attempting to patronize the sad following of this team.

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  6. shoes
    January 22, 2014

    First of all proud of Zack for not fighting. Based on recent history, in the Ducks game…..Gazdic can come in and ask for a fight, even get his stick in the face and then when the challenge is accepted, start yelling for refs and mommy, drawing record penalties. I would not be surprised if given Gazdic’s unwillingness to drop first if this was not strategy.

    Zack played exactly like he should have and there is no reason for him to be targeted by Oilers anyway, he was punished severely for his high stick.

    I don’t like the direction the NHL is playing out right now, with turtling and diving being game management decisions. Refs seem to like it or more correctly lap it up like they are catering to somebody they are related to. Only 2 short years ago…..the least dive by a Canuck brought official league and media condemnation down. Now it is “manly” and widespread.

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    • iain
      January 22, 2014

      just wait until the next time a canuck appears to dive tho……

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      January 22, 2014

      The Canucks always seem to be a step behind the ever-shifting norms in the league. One year, it’s the “Code” to “answer the bell” and if you don’t fight back then you’re a sissy and the refs won’t help you. As soon as we start to do that, gamesmanship declares that you try to start a fight and then turtle and the refs will slap the instigator with a huge penalty. Next thing you know, Kassian’s going to start getting misconduct penalties for goading people into fights. The officiating standard is so all over the map and there seems to be no movement to fix it. Of course, that bogus goal in Detroit the other day is probably going to lead to a rule change in the offseason, the NHL will get right on that I’m sure. Perhaps it boils down to how much of a limp-wristed fraud of a disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan is. I didn’t know it could be possible to be worse than Campbell, but Shanahan might just be.

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    • MB13
      January 22, 2014

      Gazdic would have re-arranged Kassian’s face if Kassian was man enough to fight. But Kassian embarrassed himself and the entire organization for not fighting. That was surely a hollow victory by the Canucks last night and Kassian proved himself a fraud.

      Again – another example of the Canucks not willing to pay the price. Gazdic should go knee on knee against Kesler… knock him out for two months… then decline Kassian… according to shoes, that’s now the manly thing to do.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        January 22, 2014

        You know, it’d be nice if you took a consistent stance for once. If you’re going to ride the Canucks for one thing, you have to praise them for doing the opposite. Why aren’t you here saying “The Canucks (and Kassian) smartly didn’t bite as they kept their eye on the prize… 2 points”? That’s exactly what you thought when the Kings didn’t answer the Canucks wish to start retaliatory fights and instead focused on hockey last week. I mean, I know you’re a troll, but when you post enough that exposing your blatant hypocrisy takes me about 2 minutes and 4 mouse clicks, maybe it’s time to give it a rest.

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        • Mb13
          January 22, 2014

          You clearly don’t know what sarcasm looks like – right?

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          • Chris the Curmudgeon
            January 23, 2014

            Typical troll response. Anytime trolling is exposed for what it is, the troll can just take refuge under the sarcasm umbrella.

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            • mb13
              January 23, 2014

              LOL – You’re not that bright are you?

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  7. iain
    January 22, 2014

    i see Kassian as a young wanna-be learning The Way of the Chirp from the Yoda-like personage of Alex Burrows…

    “Chirp or chirp not, dere is no try.”

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  8. Gored
    January 22, 2014

    The time to go after Kassian was 5 seconds after he hit Gagner, not 3 months and 2 or 3 games against the Canucks later. That ship has sailed so let’s move on. The media are being asses by trying to fan the flames of retribution.

    Much like the Oilers’ response to the Kassian/Gagner incident, the Canucks did nothing at the time of the Moore/Naslund incident, . Howver, over the following few weeks the media whipped everyone into a frenzy until the next game with Colorado where Bertuzzi had his meltdown. Then the media crucified Bert. They screamed for a pound of flesh and when it was given they killed the guy in the press.

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    • J21
      January 22, 2014

      Correction: the next game with Colorado (in Denver) was uneventful, because the score was close, just like here.

      It was two games later, in Vancouver, when the Avalanche had already pumped five (I believe) goals past Dan Cloutier in the first period alone and things got out of hand, that Bertuzzi decided it was the time to be an idiot. The circumstantial angle mentioned by Eakins is very important.

      Note that every Canucks-Blackhawks game since Duncan Keith’s attempted assassination of Daniel Sedin has had a close score too, which might explain why no one ever went mental on Keith, who sinned far more gravely than Kassian in my opinion.

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  9. Chris the Curmudgeon
    January 22, 2014

    I agree with Eakins on this one. And he’s absolutely bang on in his comparison to the Incident too. Frankly Daniel, I’m surprised you would even question it. Sure, it would be hard for any retribution visited upon Kassian to turn out as badly as what happened to Moore, but it would have started with the same intent. Bertuzzi meant to start a fight with Moore sure, but he almost certainly didn’t mean to end his career, and starting a fight with an unwilling participant would pretty much be the starting point for any incident instigated against Kassian.

    I also agree with Gored above. I think there were several parties involved in upping the stakes in the Bertuzzi/Moore situation, and while Todd was ultimately responsible for his actions, there are others who deserve some serious consternation: Brian Burke, both coaches (especially Crawford), Brad May, the media, and to some extent Steve Moore himself (owning up to his hit on Naslund would have definitely helped calm things down). Eakins has probably done a lot to help to diffuse this where another person could have easily made it worse.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      January 22, 2014

      The issue with the comparison to Bertuzzi and Moore is that Moore had already fought in that game. What Bertuzzi did was above and beyond what fans wanted the Oilers to do.

      I mean, the comparison isn’t a terrible one, really, but there’s still a large gap there.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        January 22, 2014

        Moore declined invitation after invitation until he got one from lilliputian Matt Cooke. I’m not a big fan of the whole honour code business, but that’s clearly not following it, if anything it probably exacerbates the team’s anger at Moore.

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  10. J21
    January 22, 2014

    “Perhaps a better question: is he wrong?”

    Nope. Revenge is a primal desire, and we all fall into wanting it, but it is seldom very constructive or helpful.

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  11. steveB
    January 22, 2014

    Mark “Moon Knight” Spector reminds me of the trolls that infest forums and blogs.
    S/t to Dallas Eakins for his handling of the attempted trollery.

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