If there’s one thing every team now knows after the incidences that took place over the past 72 hours in the NHL, specifically between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, it’s that functional toughness is important to an NHL team. The fact two NHL executives were likely fired because their team had a lack of it, only further suggests that clubs who don’t deploy it on their roster now, will look for it next season.
You can bet the Rangers, despite an admirable response in Wednesday’s rematch against the Capitals, will be actively seeking a couple of players who can answer the bell when guys like Tom Wilson run roughshod over their roster. So too, other teams undoubtedly watched the events unfold, noticed that Wilson wasn’t suspended and likely said, ‘Well, I guess it’s up to us.’
As such, a player like Zack Kassian becomes an interesting focal point when having this conversation.
Fans Have Been Critical of Kassian
When it comes to on-ice production, it’s fair to judge Kassian and ultimately decide he’s not worth the extension he was signed to in January of 2020. A $3.2 million cap hit for four seasons, he’s gone relatively quiet on the ice and not come anywhere close to the point production he offered the year that deal was signed.
Even when it comes to the toughness he provides, it’s a lot to pay in a flat salary cap NHL.
Many have suggested the Oilers try to trade the forward. With limited cap space, his $3.2 million takes up considerable room. And, while there’s no real evidence to suggest the Oilers have shopped the winger around, there is still probably a contingent of fans that hope he’s not on this Oilers’ roster next season.
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Kassian Will Have More Value Now
Assuming the Oilers were trying to move Kassian at some point over the past year, it’s safe to assume there wasn’t a ton of interest. That may have changed with the events of the past three days. Kassian is exactly the type of player the Rangers didn’t have when faced with the task of answering to Wilson, who felt at home trying to intimidate their team. Many would argue, had Kassian (or a player like him) been a Ranger, Wilson doesn’t do what he did.
No doubt, the Rangers will be looking for this kind of player in the offseason. Firing John Davidson and Jeff Gorton hammers that home. If the Oilers wanted to, they could probably convince New York and new GM Chris Drury to acquire Kassian. And, if for some reason the Rangers find the player too pricey an addition, Edmonton call at least 15 other teams who are just like the Rangers and no one hangs up the phone without at least first having that conversation.
The Wilson Incident Should Be Cause of Pause
If the Oilers were looking to move him, they might want to reevaluate that decision now. The reason this became such a hockey-wide issue isn’t just because Wilson is a pest or a bully. He also took liberties with a star player. The inconsistencies of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety only adds credence to the idea that teams who have star players are going to need the Kassian’s of the world more than ever.
If even three or four teams start adding more physical players to protect their stars, it won’t be long until three or four more do.. then three or four more… And guess what? The Oilers have Connor McDavid. The biggest star in the NHL and he gets abused and whacked on a nightly basis. Edmonton will need functional toughness, perhaps more than anyone.
When you consider the Oilers other tough guys are Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira, and Mike Smith, there’s an argument against making any of them the people who should answer the bell, even if all are willing. Smith is a goaltender. That one speaks for itself. Khaira is coming off two consecutive concussions in less than a month. His next big shot could be his last. Nurse can chuck em’, but he’s also the team’s best defenseman and a potential Norris Trophy candidate. He’s not a guy you want off the ice for five minutes at a time.
And while some love should be thrown towards players like Josh Archibald, Adam Larsson, and Kailer Yamamoto — players who aren’t afraid to get into any play and mix it up — they are not the solution.
Just Wait Until the NHL Playoffs
If there was ever a doubt that Kassian has value on this team, wait until the 2021 NHL playoffs begin. That physical game against the Montreal Canadiens a couple of weeks ago was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Edmonton should expect. Every night could look like that and every game could be a battle where the Oilers will need to demonstrate that no one gets to do to McDavid what Wilson did to Panarin.
Kassian is injured right now and ther are questions about whether or not he plays the rest of this regular season. He is expected back for the playoffs and just in time.