Zack Kassian gets two-game suspension for beatdown of Matthew Tkachuk

Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian was suspended for two games by the NHL on Monday, two days after he ragdolled and slobberknocked a turtling Matthew Tkachuk on national TV.

Kassian skated with the Oilers at Rogers Place earlier Monday, but he did not speak to the media afterwards ahead of his meeting with the league’s Player Safety Department.

The league said in a statement that Kassian was suspended without pay and will forfeit $20,967.74 (U.S.) under terms of the collective agreement.

Meanwhile, in Montreal, Tkachuk, after a pre-game skate with his Calgary Flames teammates, told reporters that if he had to do it all over again, he would have done the same thing.

“It (not fighting) was probably the right thing to do for me there,” Tkachcuk said.

“If (Kassian) was a different type of player, maybe (I would have). Maybe somebody closer to me out there.

“But it wasn’t the right time to do it, against the right person. I have a feeling half the people in the league wouldn’t go with that guy.

“I just think I’d rather be out there than be in the (penalty) box with him, and I’m sure if you ask the rest of my teammates, they’d rather (have) me out there instead of (being) taken off the ice.”

Kassian went after Tkachuk late in the second period Saturday night at the Saddledome, with the game tied at 3, after Tkachuk drilled him into the boards, sending Kassian’s helmet flying.

Kassian responded by grabbing Tkachuk by the scruff of his sweater, hauling him around like a bag of laundry, and landing 10 punches until the linesman intervened.

The beatdown was captured in a widely distributed photo: Tkachuk, bent forward, chin to chest, with his red and yellow gloves covering his face and head, as Kassian hauls back his left fist to administer yet another head-seeking haymaker.

Kassian was given a double minor for roughing. It was a costly penalty. The Flames scored on the power play, won 4-3, and took over top spot in the Pacific Division.

It was the second time in the game that Tkachuk had delivered a hellacious hit on Kassian.

Midway through the first period, Tkachuk lined up Kassian as he swooped around the net and hit him high with the shoulder, wobbling Kassian’s skull and knocking off his helmet.

The incident has the potential to make for some awkward moments at the upcoming all-star game, where Tkachuk will be teammates on the Pacific Division squad with Oilers stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

When asked what he would do if asked to share the ice with Tkachuk during the 3-on-3 tournament, Draisaitl said: “Probably get off the ice.”

Oilers forward James Neal, meanwhile, sneered at Tkachuk’s explanation.

“(If you don’t want to fight Kassian), well then don’t be taking 12-foot runs at him trying to kill him,” Neal said.

“You don’t see anybody else in the league doing that because they know they have to fight him.

“Am I going to go see Looch (Flame heavyweight Milan Lucic) coming around the net and go target his head? Run 12 feet and try to kill him? No, because he’s going to kill me.”

The Tkachuk hit, and the ragdoll fight, renewed the debate among the media and fans about predatory hits, rough justice, and when league intervention is appropriate in the age of heightened awareness of player safety and concussions.

Pro-Tkachukers, and Flames fans on social media, say he was right to turtle, that he has fought before (seven times) and that discretion was the better part of valour rather than take a dumb penalty in a close game.

They also note that both hits were deemed clean by the NHL and that maybe Kassian — with 33 fights and more than a thousand hits to his credit — can deliver a good hit but just can’t take one.

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Pro-Zackers, and Oiler fans, meanwhile, have been posting frame-by-frame breakdowns on Tkachuk’s earlier hit, positing that it was a predatory attack, preceded by four strides and a launch of the feet to target the head.

All sides agree the fight has put the Battle back in Battle of Alberta, heightened by the fact both teams are fighting for a playoff spot.

The next game between them is Jan. 29 in Edmonton, followed by Feb. 1 in Calgary.

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