If you royally screwed up twice at work and then got arrested by the police within a six-month span, chances are you won’t be getting a raise or promotion anytime soon.
That’s basically the situation Zack Kassian finds himself in. The Sabres 2009 first round pick was suspended by his junior team in December for missing a curfew and was then handed a 20-game penalty by the OHL a few weeks later for laying a vicious hit on Matt Kennedy. Then just last week he was charged with assault after getting into a fight outside of a bar in Windsor, Ont.
So it’s no real surprise that Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has decided to hold off on any further contract negotiations with Kassian and his agent, the legendary Bobby Orr.
From the Buffalo News:
“It’s obviously not something we condone,” Regier said. “It’s unfortunate. I happen to believe Zack’s a good kid. He just put himself in a position that going forward you can’t put yourself in those types of positions. It’s a learning process.
“It obviously, by his own admission, wasn’t a smart thing for him to do. It caught a wave. They won the Memorial Cup. He was out with some of his [Windsor] teammates, and he’s the big guy there, getting challenged and egged on, and those are things you have to learn to walk away from. You’re not on the ice. You can’t take that position.
“We’re going to continue to work with him. I told him that on one hand there’s no way we’re going to abandon him, we’re going to help him, but he’s got some work to do on the other hand.”
This really isn’t anything Sabres fans should be worried about. This is just a case of Regier playing “tough dad.” He doesn’t want it to seem like Kassian is being rewarded for bad behavior and he’s going to let the kid sit in his room and think about what he’s done before taking him out for ice cream.
The Sabres aren’t giving up on him. Not by a long shot. Kassian’s career is not in jeopardy. He just needs to grow up.
The front office wants to scare him a little bit and show him that things won’t be gifted to him at any level. It’s a bit of tough love and that’s OK. Kassian needs to reflect on these incidents to ensure they don’t happen again.
He really did go through a tough stretch. He missed the cut for the World Junior team and then got traded from the club he captained. He eventually turned it around, fighting injuries en route to a Memorial Cup championship. He needed a break and instead he put himself in a situation that ended with a fingerprinting session and a mugshot.
Regier was able to come out and make a statement. He’s looking for high-character players who try to do great things both on and off the ice. There really isn’t a better way to demonstrate that than by making a bit of an example of one of his top prospects with very few consequences.
And for all we know, they could start talking again by the end of the month. I would actually be surprised if Kassian hasn’t signed an entry-level contract by the time training camp rolls around. He has virtually nothing left to prove at the amateur level and, at least from his play on the ice, he’s ready for professional hockey.
Putting him on a team of more mature players in Portland may also be extremely beneficial. He can learn from the older players and that could help with the maturation process.
However, as our friend The Tick reminds us, the AHL won’t be an option since he has one more year of junior eligibility. So it’s to the NHL or back to Windsor for Kassian. If that’s the case, another year with the Spitfires may not be such a bad thing, even if he’s just going through the motions. It could give him an opportunity to fine tune his game and learn to be a positive role model for the younger players on the team.
Jumping to the NHL so seamlessly like Tyler Myers did a year ago is no easy feat. Kassian may need that extra year if those are his only options.
We’ll see how this plays out in the coming weeks and months, but for now, a lot of people are making this out to be a bigger deal than it really is. He’s in a good organization with a lot of smart and talented hockey people. The kid is going to be all right.