When Zack Kassian’s car accident came to light, it was met with frustration and disappointment. Already on his third NHL team by the age of 24, patience with Kassian is wearing thin and when a team is frustrated with a player, other teams around the league know about it. Montreal Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin claimed the incident showed a lack of character and judgement and made his disappointment in Kassian very clear. However, news broke Monday night that Kassian had entered Stage Two of the NHL-NHLPA joint Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program.
Zack Kassian: The Player and the Person
The accident isn’t the first time Kassian has gotten into trouble off the ice. There was also his altercation at a bar in Windsor, Ont. back in 2010. On the ice, Kassian has been a notoriously frustrating player. Blessed with size, speed and skill, Kassian is the total package who has come nowhere close to realizing his potential. When he is on his game, he is a dominant player using all his tools to be effective. However, on many nights, he is invisible.
Bergevin took a gamble when acquiring Kassian. He gave up a leader and a fan favourite in Brandon Prust. Bergevin is a man who emphasizes the need for character on his team and considering how Prust was seen as one of the ultimate character players in Montreal, it was no small trade. Bergevin runs a tight ship in Montreal and this is the first time under his tenure that a story like this has emerged. Kassian was a high risk, high reward player coming over to Montreal this summer and his entrance into rehab sheds a whole new light on Kassian and the rest of the league.
Not the only one
With Kassian entering rehab, the human side of these stories is often lost. People struggle on a daily basis to ask for help, let alone professional hockey players who will play through serious injuries to stay on the ice and be there for their teammates. However, Kassian is no longer the exception to the rule. More and more players are asking for help to battle their personal demons. Enforcers such as Rich Clune and Jordin Tootoo have spoken out on their personal issues in detail and they are considered to be success stories as both have since recovered. However, the number of players who have died in recent years due to suicide, drugs or other means is too big. It’s one thing to hear the troubling aspects of pro sports from a sports psychologist. It’s another thing entirely to hear it from a player living it every day.
It’s an interesting time for the Kassian story, especially with a recent TSN article detailing the rising use of cocaine by NHL players. Drugs and alcohol are no strangers to the NHL and cocaine is currently not on the list of banned substances by the league. The NHL currently tests for steroids but other drugs currently are not tested for. It is a serious issue considering that two players in recent years, Ryan Malone and Jarret Stoll, have been arrested and charged with possession of cocaine.
If you're more focused on the professions of Zack Kassian or CC Sabathia than their well-being, you're wrong. Humans first, athletes second.
— Adam Proteau (@Proteautype) October 5, 2015
At this point in time, Kassian is currently suspended without pay and can only play when doctors deem him fit enough to return. All that matters is Kassian gets the help he needs. He’s still a young man who has his entire life in front of him and hockey will be waiting when he is ready. Hopefully other players who are suffering will seek help too in the wake of Kassian’s situation.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Ryerson University. I am a freelance journalist and a Montreal Canadiens writer for The Hockey Writers. I previously wrote for Simcoe.com and Last Word on Sports as well as interned at TSN.