Zack Kassian isn’t something I would have expected to be discussing at this point of the 2021 NHL season, but a combination of those words and “teams interested” were uttered local radio recently. More specifically, the belief was that teams would be calling on the Oilers’ winger for information on his availability.
I’ve written a handful of things about Zack Kassian over the last five years, and there’s always a chance that the Oilers could field a call or two from a serious suitor. If there is a suitor in 2021 for Zack Kassian’s services, the Oilers ought to listen closely and work with that suitor to make a match.
If Zack Kassian is here for the season opener on October, he will be embarking on his seventh season in Edmonton. Since being acquired for Ben Scrivens years ago, Zack Kassian has scored 49 goals in six seasons. He’s got 116 total points in six seasons with the Oilers, but we’re keenly aware that creating offence isn’t his primary reason for being in the lineup. Kassian is brought in on most nights to engage the opponent, and he’s at his best when he’s agitating and under the skin of his foe.
Kassian signed a one year deal at the dawn of the 2016-17 season valued at 1.5MM. It was a low risk deal, but Kassian had himself a playoff year (he scored three goals in 13 games) that would sell himself to Peter Chiarelli for three more years at 1.95MM a year. Kassian would remain relatively healthy for the first two years, though his usage dwindled. He was granted permission to seek a trade by the Oilers as reports surfaced that he was unhappy in his role with the club at the time.
In the final year of his deal, he would be paired with Connor McDavid on the top line for significant chunks of the season. This helped propel Kassian’s point total to over 30 for the first time in his NHL career. It was nice to see Kassian have some success with talented forwards, the success would evaporate when not on the top line. Kassian was his pugilistic self throughout his contract, though he would pick up a memorable seven game suspension for kicking Tampa Bay’s Eric Cernak in the crest during a game in Feburary 2020.
CHEQUES AND (IM)BALANCES
Somewhat surprisingly, Ken Holland felt comfortable enough to extend Kassian through the 2023-24 NHL season to the value of 3.2MM per season. As you may imagine, I’m not really in love with this deal for a few reasons, most notably that you’ve got a player on your roster with limited upside with a cap hit north of 3 million clams. It’s an extremely suspect deal, and it’s even more suspect after a year now that Kassian has had two injuries that cost him significant playing time this past season.
Zack Kassian injured his hand in a fight with Ottawa’s Erik Gudbranson early in the season, causing him to miss a significant amount of time. He would later suffer a lower body injury after an awkward attempt at checking Montreal’s Shea Weber. A combination of injuries and scratches would limit Zack Kassian to just 27 games in a 56 game season. Kassian averaged under twelve minutes a game during the regular season, he’d finish with just five points (2-3-5) on the season. He’d score two points (1-1-2) in four games against the Winnipeg Jets in this year’s playoffs.
I was critical of the deal when it was signed, I think I’m equally as critical of it now and for good reason. Kassian turned 30 this past season, he’s averaged nearly four minutes less ice time per game in 2020-21 versus 2019-20. Since his hand injury to Erik Gudbranson in February of this year, Kassian hasn’t had a fighting major. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in five minute penalties, but the club values his ability to agitate or else they wouldn’t have handed him a four year deal. I’ve got serious doubts that he can bring that part of his game, and I think that really hurts his perceived value.
I am happy to be wrong about all of this if it means that there are clubs making calls on Kassian. From afar, maybe Kassian’s reputation as a tough guy can interest a couple of teams into a deal. I can hear the detractors already screaming about how the loss of Kassian will make the Oilers easier to play against, but those detractors must have forgotten that Kassian hasn’t engaged an opponent since his hand injury in February.
I can play Josh Archibald where Zack Kassian plays for less than half of the cap space that Kassian is due. The flat cap makes it a little tougher, but if there’s a club that wants to send a pick, a prospect, or even a player back, there’s good reason to take that call and try to make a deal.
If Pittsburgh or the Rangers see Zack Kassian as was suggested yesterday, I’m hoping Holland has some of that ol’ Lucic-to-Calgary magic up his sleeve, as freeing up even a chunk of Kassian’s 3.2MM hit is a big help in a summer where Holland will no doubt be active.