The NHL Department of Player Safety has come down hard on the Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian for kicking the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Erik Cernak, suspending the forward for seven games.
The incident in question took place Thursday in the first period of the Lightning’s 3-1 win at Amalie Arena. After Kassian and Cernak got tangled up along the boards and fell to the ice, Kassian delivered a forceful kick with his skate blade to Cernak’s chest. He was not penalized on the play.
“He was holding my leg. It was reactionary. I was just trying to get him off me, kick him off me. I was just trying to get my foot loose,” Kassian said after the game. “I was laying there for a while, a couple of seconds, so I was just trying to pull my leg out… If I kicked him hard, I think he would have flew back or the ref would have called a penalty.”
Cernak didn’t agree. “I think he was little bit mad,” he said. “I asked him what was wrong with him, because that’s not a right play to do on the ice. He kicked me right in the chest, so luckily that wasn’t higher.”
In a their video explaining the suspension, the Department of Player Safety said:
“Kassian acknowledges intentionally using the blade of his skate to push off from his opponent to gain space, an act for which there is no justification… any player who intentionally and carelessly uses the blade of his skate to contact an opponent — regardless of the amount of force used — engages in kicking and is putting his opponent at immediate risk of serious injury, and such plays will not be tolerated.”
Was Suspension Severe Enough?
Kassian, who waived his right to an in-person hearing, had a phone hearing with the DoPS this afternoon, after which the verdict was reached.
In the wake of the incident, many on social media opined Kassian should have to sit should have to sit out the rest of the season. In 2007, New York Islanders enforcer Chris Simon was assessed a 30-game ban — the second longest in NHL history to this day — for a similar incident in which he stomped on the ankle of Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jarkko Ruutu.
Kassian should thank his lucky stars Cernak wasn’t injured on the play. If he was, the suspension certainly would have been more severe.
Repeat Offender Kassian Has Put His Team in a Bad Spot
Kassian is a repeat offender and this is his second suspension of the season. He was already forced to sit out two games in mid-January for jumping and delivering several punches to the Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk. He has been suspended a total of four times now, including for five games in 2013 as a member of the Vancouver Canucks for high-sticking Sam Gagne in a preseason game.
Kassian is in his fifth campaign with the Oilers and has recorded 30 points in 52 games. He was rewarded last month for his solid play alongside Connor McDavid with a four-year $12.8 million extension. His suspension puts the Oilers in a bad spot as McDavid is currently out two-to-three weeks with an injured quad.
The veteran of 518 NHL games will be eligible to return on Feb. 29 against the Winnipeg Jets.