April 03 2013 10:32AM
The Canucks re-assigned rugged winger Zack Kassian to the AHL a few days ago. Officially, it was a standard re-assignment but it was widely seen as an unofficial "conditioning stint" since Kassian has missed some time over the past few weeks with a nagging lower back injury.
However, it now appears that there may have been disiplinary reasons that factored into Kassian's demotion. Read on past the jump.
This is what Tony Gallagher reported yesterday:
In fact, it’s largely disciplinary given he’s been photographed enjoying himself in some of the local nightspots when he’s supposed to have been nursing an ailing back. But the club doesn’t really want to say so. He’s young and inexperienced in this market — where everything you do is spotted, photographed and dutifully reported.
First off, Gallagher's take includes original quotes from General Manager Mike Gillis, so you can't write this off as conjecture or idle speculation. This is a report and it's a pretty firm one at that, and I'd also mention that there's little chance Gillis shares this information with any other Vancouver writer.
On the other hand, Zack Kassian has a sore back - it isn't like both of his legs are broken. So what if he was out enjoying himself on the town? He is a 21-year-old man in a big city, making a lot of money. He could probably pick his spots better, but I don't really see anything wrong with this. I am glad it hasn't been blown out of proportion (yet).
More from Gillis:
"We’ve had lots of experience at dealing with young players like this and that’s just it, he’s young,” says GM Mike Gillis. “Think back to when you were 21-years-old and imagine what you’d be like in his situation. This is a totally different situation than was the case with Cody. Zack’s going to be a very good player for us."
Exactly. A talented young man being a young man. Kassian scored in his first game down in the AHL (last night), too. Kassian has quite the life story already, and he remains an intriguing young player with a lot of upside. There will be ups and downs along the way, and situations like this is where Gillis' experience as a player agent will come in handy. He has encountered every imaginable controversy regarding players, and he knows how to handle them.
Kassian's strong start to the season was encouraging, but he hit a wall soon after (much like last season). It isn't easy for power forwards to balance the skill and the rough stuff - Milan Lucic is having the same issues this season, and he has already proven himself in the NHL. Kassian worked his butt off last summer to get in shape, and it showed in those first few weeks of the season and even when his offensive production cooled off he continued to drive play as well as any other third liner on Vancouver's roster. Consistency won't come over night, but the key for him is to keep the right attitude about things.
Laurence Gilman was on the TEAM 1040 (the 12 o'clock hour with Sekeres and Price) yesterday and offered a series of quotes on Kassian.
Zack Kassian hasn't played in a couple of weeks. We are in a playoff race. We are trying to secure a playoff spot. We need to get him down and playing games. And to the extent that he is going to have an adjustment period, we don't have the luxury to have that on our team.
When asked by Price if it was a short term demotion only:
Not necessarily. We are going to watch how he plays. He is going to play three games over the weekend. We are going to determine how those games go, and evaluate at that point.... It is a performance-based economy. It isn't an entitlement to be on our roster.
Very carefully worded. Reading between the lines, it appears to be more than simply conditioning related, but the team doesn't want to come right out and say it (though they obviously said it without their names attached to Tony Gallagher). Slamming players in the media is a stupid strategy that never really works (just ask Ron Wilson), especially in markets with media and fans that like to spin things out of control.
This isn't completely meant to defend Kassian. Partying at the Roxy (or elsewhere) really isn't the worst thing a player can do, but there are a lot of camera-happy hockey fans there on any given night. He'll learn to pick his spots better. And this demotion isn't completely conditioning-related, but I wouldn't call it a pure punishment either. More of a "keep your head up, kid."