Zack Kassian: ‘I don’t even know what the hell is going on’

Miscast Vancouver Canucks power forward Zack Kassian is confused, and rightly so.

Three different coaching staffs have cycled through Vancouver during the big 24-year-old winger’s tenure and he’s endeared himself to precisely none of them. For a while that was understandable, since Kassian’s two-way deficiencies were plain to see. 

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Over the past 12 months though, Kassian has turned himself into a credible NHL forward. The bounces haven’t been going his way this year, but he’s still driving play decently well in a bottom-six role. He’s surely one of Vancouver’s nine best forwards.

He isn’t being treated that way though. Instead he’s yo-yoing in and out of the lineup, and on Monday – one day removed from being a healthy scratch against the MInnesota Wild – Kassian was skating with Nick Bonino and Shawn Matthias on what would seem to be Vancouver’s probable second forward line. Or maybe not.

“I wouldn’t read to much into it,” Kassian told Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province. “I don’t even know what the hell is going on.” 

Neither do we, Mr. Kassian. Let’s try and figure it out.

Let’s start with the full gamut of Kassian’s quotes, because they’re pretty excellent. Here’s mount Kass erupting, via Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun:

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I thought I played well against Anaheim. I took the bad penalty but I was playing with emotion and I was trying to do the right thing. I played a good game against Buffalo and then that happens. So, honestly, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. I was if not more shocked than anyone. 

Am I frustrated? You guys have no idea how effing frustrated I am. But that’s the way it is. I’m not going to sit here and sulk. I just have to find a way. It’s no secret I need to start scoring goals and I need to be more consistent. I have two goals this year. I came in and I had high expectations… it’s tough to score when you’re riding the bike. 

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get to it.

The first thing we should discuss is Kassian’s deployment, which has legitimately been a bit weird this season.

The burly forward has come into his own as a two-way player, and to these eyes, has been particularly effective when cutting through the neutral zone with control of the puck this season (and towards the tail end of last year). His play without the puck is also significantly less noticeable than it has been in years past, which we mean as a compliment.

Of the four forwards with whom Kassian has played at least 40 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, all four have done better by shot attempt differential alongside the oft-disciplined forward than they’ve done without him. Similarly, last season, all three forwards with whom Kassian spent at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5 fared better by the shot based metrics with Kassian than without. 

This would suggest that Kassian, as his game has matured, has found ways to move the river in a positive direction. 

Considering these results, and considering how poor Vancouver’s forwards have been at controlling play over the past eight weeks – no Canucks line, including the Sedin line, has won their territorial matchup on a consistent basis since December 1st – scratching Kassian with any degree of regularity is borderline preposterous. This club needs his speed, and play-driving ability in the lineup. Period.

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As for the lack of production, and that ghastly minus-8 number, that’s a different matter. While Kassian has only two goals and five points on the year, it would appear that a good deal of his offensive struggles are the result of bad luck.

Like a man with food poisoning, Kassian is dealing with a spell of misfortune at both ends. His 6.1 percent personal shooting clip is roughly half of his career 11.9 percent rate, and his 6.37 percent on-ice shooting rate at 5-on-5 ranks 284th among the 355 NHL forwards who have played at least 300 even-strength minutes this season. Throw in an unsustainably low .883 on-ice save percentage, and Kassian’s 94.6 PDO ranks 350th among the 355 forwards who have played at least 300 minutes this year.

With only a few rare exceptions, forwards don’t generally have direct control over these bounces. It looks to this analyst’s eyes like Kassian is in the midst of a percentage driven off year. 

All of which brings us back to Kassian not knowing what the hell is going on. He’s a professional hockey player who has been traded before, and us, well, this isn’t our first rodeo. His dwindling ice-time, the lack of trust this Canucks coaching staff rather apparently has for him and the persistent reports that Kassian is being shopped would suggest that the 24-year-old isn’t long for Vancouver. 

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His frank comments on Monday would seemingly serve as another data point in favour of this perhaps inevitable conclusion.

When trading a 24-year-old whose underlying performance appears to be improving even as his on-ice results crater, the seller best be beware though. Nothing is simple about this situation, really, except for the likelihood that if Kassian is traded, Vancouver will be selling low on a decently useful young player with a relatively rare skill set. 

(Stats in this piece compiled from

  • No offense but why is it when canucks army tries to do an opinion peice and use data things that dont support the argument like his awful production is simply then just chalked up to “bad luck”

    How about his boneheaded penalties he has taken the past few games that have cost the team? Or is that ignored because it does not suit your argument or because we have no metric for bad penalties. Or is it just more bad luck?

    • Dirty30

      So far this season, Kassian is averaging out to 1 minor penalty every 2.17 games. In comparison, Dorsett is taking minors at a rate of 1/2.25 games, Stanton 1/3.09 games, and Bieksa 1/1.95 games. Despite the numbers revealing that Stanton is actually taking fewer dumb minor penalties than I seem to recall, Kass seems to be in the same ballpark PIM-wise as some of his other rough-and-tumble teammates. Not only that, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument that Kassian brings any less to the lineup than those three have this season.

      Regardless of how anyone personally feels about Kassian at this point, however, we all have to agree that trading him now would be selling at his absolute low and would be a complete waste. Given the smart move management just made in selling high on Forsling, one would HOPE that they understand that, too. Then again, as a long-time fan in this market, I’ve given up being surprised by how things end up turning out. 🙂

      • wojohowitz

        I think you make an important point.

        Personally I want Kassian to stay with the Canucks but, even if you don’t, this is not the time to sell. If we’re going to sell him I’d like to see us pump his tires like we did with Hodgson. Give him some decent ice-time with quality line mates and let him bust this slump and increase his trade value. Hell, it could also be his chance at redemption.

        Anyone who has played team sports knows that sometimes there are factors that don’t show in stats or on the ice. It does make you wonder about what has got 3 successive coaches and 2 GMs (or more if you count those in Buffalo) so down on a player that has demonstrated that he can drive play effectively. Maybe there’s something we’re not seeing.

  • @Ghost

    The lack of discipline is real, although Richardson and Dorsett have taken penalties at a similar clip and their respective spots in the lineup are assured.

    As for the “bad luck” when you’re 350th in PDO out of 355 players that qualify, well, it’s going to get brought up! Thanks for reading!

  • Dirty30

    Here’s the problem — JB rolls into town and lines em up and says here’s how it’s done …

    And ships out a beast for a pizza and six-pack … Oops

    Then the new Coach says “I can do better cuz there was this guy in Junior …”

    And brings us Mason Raymond lite.

    So what’s the strategy? Admit they crapped the bed? Nope … (Cue the Tammy) — they “stand by your man … Even when he’s a floater … Stand by your man …”

    And dump on the guy who could make a difference.

    But I think Kassian is pretty much ruined for this team now. He might be the same elsewhere but then again he may turn it around and this could bite this team in the assets somewhere down the road.

    Sure keep playing Vey … We’ve seen this story and how it ends.

    • andyg

      Have you ever had a puppy that couldn’t be house broke. I had one that was the pick of the litter. A real fine specimen in all ways but no matter what we did we could not break it of certain habits.

      When that happens you quietly sell it to some unsuspecting soul or give it away to someone who wants try and fix it.

      But there is always another puppy. (Unless you get attached)

    • Larionov18

      I could not agree more. Kesler for a salary dump player in Sbisa and an average 3rd line centre who cannot win a faceoff is a bad trade. Thank gawd McCann looks great. Linden Vey is a slower version of Mayray. Benning has had a spotty start. Forsling trade could be a beauty but time will tell. To me Forsling seemed to Forrest Gump his way to those points in the WJ’s. Never looked dangerous IMO.

  • Dirty30

    Well i guess if you believe strongly in pdo luck metric. The pdo reasoning was also used to explain david booth and why he couldnt score. Were still waiting for booths luck to turn around. Or why edmonton was so bad at the start of the season was just bad luck with a league high pdo at one point. Kassian is a playmaker though and we have not seen much out of his assist total in 28 games. Had 3 until buffalo.

    Also the penalties at a similar clip need context, did they run maroon for no reason in a 1-0 game vs the best team in the league which lead to a 2nd goal? Did they take an uncalled for slashing penalty against the goalie after buffalo had scored 2 pp goals? Stats may show each penalty as a penalty but depending on the context if you were a coach you could see why ones like those would bother a coach. And i know we dont have a stat for this but perhaps management is not enthused with his attitude either and comments like those today. He talked a big game saying he is not coming out of the lineup once he was back in then proceeded to be invisible on that last road trip.

      • Dirty30

        So it has to be bad luck, it cant be because he is having trouble learning a new system, is having an off year, his timing is off right now from being rusty especially after the finger injury. Its the bad luck metric.

  • wojohowitz

    We`ve seen Kassian at his most productive. That was at the end of last season when he teamed up with Richardson and Booth. Remember the four assists game? That was Kassian in his `comfort zone`. With two experienced players who knew what their roles were and Kassian just trying to fit in.

    This management team has totally mis-managed Kassian. They don`t know what to do with him to the point where he doesn`t know what is expected of him. I dread the day he comes back to Vancouver with another team and turns into a wrecking ball.

    Give him more than three or four shifts. Let him find his comfort zone again and let him become a wrecking ball for the Canucks instead of against us. I`d even put him in as a second line center with Higgins and Burrows – two guys who know their roles inside and out and can cover for him when he makes mistakes. Don`t trade this kid.

  • Dirty30

    And i really do hope kassian works this out with the team, I hope he plays tomorrow and has a strong game and i hope I reflect back on this if kassian is still here and say this really motivated kassian, he turned his game around, he is consistent on a regular basis, noticeable when he plays and is contributing to the team and he has proven skeptics like me completely wrong.

  • Dirty30

    I dont know what to make of kassian, numbers seem to be in his favor, but guys like ray ferraro would be an interesting debate to have with Thomas drance.

    He is not a zk fan at all and will bring up plays in the game kassian makes that show poor hockey IQ at ends of the rink. He was on tsn 1040 the other week pointing out the flames game where kassian tried a high risk tip pass in the defensive zone that went directly to a flames player and lead to a scoring chance, he also brought up when kassian chips the puck in on his wing with nobody near him to retrieve it, he skates away. Those type of plays make me wonder about his IQ away from the puck at times.

      • Dirty30

        I think he’s very smart but also very scared. Listen to some of his interviews and he does more than grunt platitudes. He has a sense of humour and his teammates seem to like him too.

        However I also think he plays by instinct — go in or cycle or … But it’s based on his read of the ice — therefore he gets really stumped when entering the zone, doesn’t see a play and he has mixed assignments from the Coach so he simply stops dead because now he’s terrified to make a mistake.

        Given the right line he could develop those instincts to work in the system.

  • @Ghost Booth is a sh% outlier (which ftr I was pointing out in May of 2012 ), but he’s also useful when he’s healthy.

    Issue is he hasn’t been in three-four years.

    Back to Kassian, he’s been over 8% in on-ice shooting over the past 3 years, top-160 of the 350 who qualify:

    So, yeah, most likely his complete lack of production this year is bad luck. (Edit: though yeah new system, poor line-mates, injury issues probably play a role too).

  • wojohowitz

    This is an excellent article. AS usual. Time for someone to send this to Benning, remind him that teams have access to advanced stats – and that, you know, they help you evaluating your team and players.

    This new coaching staff and management is so from the stone ages. Sbisa still in the lineup. Bonino still as a 2C. Inconsistant Miller over Lack. And benching Kassian. These guys are such idiots and making mockery of the Canucks org, I just can’t even watch it anymore.

    Bennings been burned on all his trades and signings:
    Kesler trade = total bust. I don’t even need to explain why.
    Trading your highest scoring top pairing dman (garrison) for a 2nd rounder = bust
    Trading a 2nd rounder for replacement level Vey = bust.
    Trading a young prospect who just lit up world Jrs for a 22 yr old 3rd yr d-man trade = bust.
    Trading 3rd round pick for bottom pairing AHL d-man = but.
    $6M Miller rocking league worst EV SV% for 1/3 this season, and now rocking slightly below avg EV SV% = bust.
    Trading 3rd round pick for replacement level player (Dorsett) = not as bad as above trades

    How on earth would anyone trust this guy to make a trade? He’s batting 0 for 6 in only 6 months as a GM. Give me a break. Get this guy out of here before he ruins liker Canucks like he ruined Boston after his Seguin trade.

    • acg5151

      Ahh i love how now that the team came back to earth the past always looks brighter.

      So because the team was riddled with injuries and he had to give kassian more time everyones saying torts was not an issue. Well kassian had those opportunities because we barely iced a team after our top guys played huge minutes and were blocking shots, he had to use kassian.

      People already forget the positives so far this season, guys like edler, burrows, hansen have re-emerged, the sedins have managed to stay healthy, we are actually playing 4 lines and have a prospect in horvat learning the nhl. We dont have roberto sitting out in a heritage classic type controversy making headlines or storming the locker.

      When willies time comes to pass here as the fanbase goes (and we seen it with av) things will be remembered with fondness for the things that went well in comparison to the new coach. Torts was a problem and already people are remembering his time in a brighter light. But it does not excuse what this team is, and what we all know it is. A fringe playoff team.

  • Regarding Kassian’s “Undisciplined” play –

    We keep hearing about how Kassian needs to use his body, to play with an edge, to be tough.

    He does that, and then he gets told he’s “undisciplined” and he “can’t be taking bad penalties”.

    So he backs off a bit, plays with a bit more care, and starts hearing the old song about how he doesn’t use his size and he isn’t being intimidating or playing with an edge.

    It’s a no-win scenario.

    • WTF

      Well said. I like the free-range, non-domesticated version of Kass. The one with a bit of wildness in his play. For all the talk of team toughness and the desire to find the next great power forward in the mould of Milan Lucic, the Canucks seemed pretty intent on drumming that part of Kass’s game out of him. I remember the guy who KO’d Ben Eager – the perennial thorn in the Canucks side when he was with Chicago. That was a nice moment.

    • acg5151

      Absolutely, and I think this comes because the coaching staff and management have mis-cast what type of player Kassian is.

      Zack Kassian is not a Power Forward. He is not the type of player who is best suited to barging to the net, bowling over defencemen and banging in ‘garbage goals’. He is an above-average passer who happens to be 6’2″ and 220lb. He does use his size to protect the puck very well, and he can of course fight when needed, but he’s not what pops into everyone’s head when the words ‘Power Forward’ are mentioned.

      I genuinely think current management thinks a guy of his size should match up with the expectations of play style that come with the label, and are frustrated that he isn’t playing that way. Despite the fact that it’s simply not his game.

      • acg5151

        BINGO! Let’s try to take this square peg and pound it into this round hole. In the process depreciating said asset until there is no longer any value. Hey Canuck brain trust. How about use this player for what he has to offer and go shopping for a proper power forward…

        • acg5151

          I agree that Zack Kassian has made some nice offensive passes and his offensive tendancy appears to be pass first unless on a wrap around from behind the net.

          To view players as power forwards or playmakers is incorrect, succeeding in the NHL is about both- knowing when to make the power move and knowing when to pass.

          Zack Kassian also has the physical tools to make a “power forward” move. To not use those tools or to not develop/work on that aspect of the game in addition the rest is simply career limiting.

          Zack Kassian should not be driving the net on every play but Zack Kassian should not be looking to pass on every play.

  • WTF

    You know I think most clubs have a Kas on their team. There always seems to be one player on most every team who is really challenged to perform consistently. A guy who struggles to do the right thing at the right time.

    It may be better to showcase Kassian in the most positive light and then trade him for picks and/or prospects at the deadline.

  • Mantastic

    Sometimes the problem with players isn’t just points/plus minus or possession stats, it’s who that player is.

    Kypreos said on HNIC a few weeks back that GMs are looking at Kassian but worry about what he will do to a locker room. That just doesn’t come out of no where and 3 coaches can’t all be blind. Kassian doesn’t play the game he needs to play and the “stupid penalty” against Anahiem wasn’t just stupid, it was ignorant.

    Since when has a coach said to any player…. Play with emotion. Play with and edge but don’t let your emotions get out of control. Passion and energy are not the same as emotion Kass! When people argue and get emotional, bad things are said. Play with emotion and you are out of control.

    Kassian needs to decide if he is a Pro or just a hockey player. Hate to give up on the guy and see him pull it together in another sweater, but at some point you SH/$ or get off the Pot. If he keeps playing like crap….l

  • andyg

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of my many complaints of this new management group. They’re unfortunately accumulating their own laundry list of poor moves, and how they’ve handled Kassian is high on that list for me.

    It’s very disappointing, and how this team is managed going forward is up in the air, in my mind.

    Tell Willie to stop sticking it up his old players’ yoohoo and start playing players based on merit.

    Excuse the crassness. It’s just incredibly frustrating to see Vey and Dorsett playing so much and Kassian, who has been no worse than either, to be scratched so much.

  • acg5151

    It really pisses me off that Willie Desjardins is throwing Kassian under the bus.

    I really like Zack Kassian but honestly Desjardins is just ruining him and won’t even play him so I hope when we trade him (Which is going to happen) that we get someone good for him, and I legitimately hope that Kassian succeeds wherever we trade him to, because I am pretty sure that if we were to give him the opportunity on the second or first line that he would succeed.

    Like remember that season where we played him with the Sedins and he had like one game where he had a rough time and AV dumped him? Like give this kid the benefit of the doubt. We are playing random Medicine Hat people over Kassian and it sucks because right now there are several players on this team who I cannot say deserve to play above Kassian (Kenins who I like, Dorsett, Horvat, Linden Vey, Shawn Matthias).

    I just get so frustrated at the Canucks sometimes because we dump our young players way too soon and we are too stupid to develop them. We are almost as bad as the Oilers at this. How many times have we dumped a player only for him to flourish outside of Vancouver because we were impatient and we had to plan our parade route RIGHT NOW.

    We are like Toronto west sometimes and it is really annoying.

  • Larionov18

    I just think its his IQ that is the problem. When I heard a Canuck held up an image of dumb and dumber over his head and a fellow Canuck player’s hint was kas and kas it said it all, especially when he got it right away. Benning knows stupid as he had Marchand so I was hoping he would realize even stupid players can be useful. Just trade the guy. Its turning in to another drama train sadly. Either that or play him over the ever so soft Vey. My choice…reminds of the Ballard v AV Rome crush.

  • Mantastic

    Canucks’ management’s inability to draw these simple conclusions from readily available data is a huge pain in the ass. They clearly have zero comprehension as to who this player is and how best to use his strengths. They don’t seem to care to learn, either.

    This is one of the more frustrating things about the Canucks this year.

  • Mantastic

    i bet 90% of the people calling for management to play Kassian more based off his underlining numbers also believe Bo Horvat should stay playing in the NHL…

    • wojohowitz

      I don’t think anybody here thinks Horvat has earned an NHL spot at this point. Honestly, that’s fodder for another article, but I think it is mostly that we’ve all stopped talking about Horvat because there is nothing more to discuss: management said he should stay with the big team this season and burn a year from his contract, so there is really nothing else to be done with him.

      Whether playing over his head in the NHL for a season will be good for his long-term development, well, I can’t say. Somehow I can’t help but feel giving him the opportunity to tear up major junior for a year might have been a better call. Tsk, hindsight.

  • Mantastic

    I think it’d be really interesting to see next year if Virtanen can make the team. If you have two big wingers like Virtanen and Kassian on one line, one that thinks he’s a playmaker with one who is going to designated as a triggerman, it would be a really devastating combination. Pair them with a defensively responsible centre with a good work ethic like Richardson and I think you have some 3rd line depth scoring.

  • Dirty30

    Kassian has all the tools to be an NHL top 6 forward, a big body, good passer, good hands and none of us wants to see a coach ruin his development.

    That said, I think Willie & co are purposely pushing his buttons. Now, I love his kooky character & drawings off the ice but he is just not bringing it on the ice, so I’m not surprised that the coach might see him as a happy-go-lucky carebear.

    I also think that Willie (and the team) see Kassian with higher potential than Kassian sees in himself. Willie already said that his job is to get a player to perform at a level that even the player didn’t think possible (the next level).

    IMHO, I think the goal is to get Kassian to play angry and up his on-ice intensity & focus. The intensity Willie brings to the bench during a game is designed to be an example & help players up theirs in turn.

    Maybe Kassian needs to start painting a mental image of Willie’s mustache on all opposing players.