All Talk, No Kassian

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Boy, there sure has been a lot of talk about Zack Kassian the last few days. We’ve gone from Zack talking to the media after being told he would be scratched on Tuesday, to Canucks head coach, Willie Desjardins, talking to Warren Rychel, the co-owner of Kassian’s Memorial Cup winning team, the Windsor Spitfires.

But despite all the talking, there’s still no game action for Kassian, as it has just come out that he will once again be scratched for tonight’s game against the Sharks.

Oooh, boy. Next thing you know, he’s going to show up at the rink in a track suit…

Ok, not really. Not even Zack is dumb enough to go for dinner and dancing on a game day.

But enough about other team’s problem children. Let’s focus on Zack and the Canucks here.

After what seemed like the start of a break-out year last year, where he scored 14 goals and showed flashes of offensive potential, Kassian has taken a huge step back this year. Struggling to stay in the line-up, either due to injury or coach’s decision, and struggling on the ice when he does manage to get into action. What should have been a breakout year, has turned into a fallout year, where he has once again fallen out with the coach and the management team.

Yes, Kassian himself has to shoulder much of the responsibility for failing to make much of the opportunities he has been given. While he’s been largely relegated to 4th line duties since returning from his finger injury, Kassian was given 2nd/3rd line ice time and linemates to start the season and wasn’t able to generate much in the way of results. Sure, he’s got one of the best on-ice scoring chance for rates among Canucks forwards, but he also has the worst on-ice scoring chance against rate. And what’s worse is that the Canucks have been much worse at converting those scoring chances than the opposing team. 

But as Dear Leader @ThomasDrance points out in the piece linked above, Kassian has the 350th lowest PDO out of 355 forwards that have played more than 300 minutes this year. So those poor results are some heavy-duty Percentage Driven Outcomes. (P-D-O get it? haha #sigh)

Anyway, I’m not saying it’s all percentages. In some respects you do make your own luck. I mean, if you allow a bunch more high-percentage scoring chances against than anybody else, chances are your on-ice save percentage is going to suffer. Shouldn’t be 0.883 bad, but you can expect it to be bad.

But it’s also not all Kassian’s fault.

The way the Canucks have used him, and they way they have tried to get him to change his game, is not ideal.

Yes, he’s a big buy and should use that size to his advantage. But the team seems fixated on this to the point that they’re overlooking his obvious offensive talents. They see size, so they want to see hits on the ice. I’m just not sure that’s the type of game he should be playing:

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Sure, you can’t teach size, but you can pick it up for free off the waiver wire or the free agent list. That’s not true of skill and Kassian has skill.

I hate when people say Player X is the next Player Y, but if you want to turn Kassian into another player, stop trying to turn him into Lucic and try turning him into Bertuzzi instead. I think he’s got that kind of skill in him. He’s certainly shown flashes of it. For a guy his size, he’s an amazingly good passer and has great vision on the ice. That’s what they should be trying to build on.

There’s one other aspect to Kassian that I think is very Bertuzzi-like.

All elite level athletes in physical team sports must find a balance between emotional engagement and rational decision-making. You have to play on the edge of being jacked-up and energized for the game, but not letting that emotion get away from you and doing something stupid.

Everyone has their balance point, and I believe Kassian is one of those guys that plays better at a more moderate level of engagement:

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If he’s totally disengaged, he just kind of meanders around out there not doing much. But on the flip side, if he really gives in to the emotions of the game, he does dumb things. He was especially like that in Junior and his early career in Buffalo. Even with the Canucks, there have been flashes of that berserker rage on occasion.

Remind you of someone?

As a point of reference, this is what I think Bieksa would look like superimposed on the same chart:

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Bieksa it at his ornery best when he’s juiced up and emotionally into the game. And there’s very little downside up there. But man, when he’s not into it… and you can usually tell what kind of night it’s going to be with him in the first couple of shifts.

But that’s not Kassian. He’s got some down side on both ends of the spectrum.

My point is this, I think finding that balance and playing on the edge is a really difficult thing for Kassian. Largely because he’s still just a kid, but also because that’s just his temperment. That being said, I also think he’s improved in this regard. Despite what other fanbases might think, for the most part he has matured somewhat and is not a crazed goon every time he is out on the ice.

But when the Canucks ask him to play with more wanton abandon, it strikes me that it’s a very difficult thing for him to balance at this point in his development as a hockey player and a giant of a man. I think it will come, but it’s going to take time and patience and working with him on ways to find that balance in preparation for each game, and also to find ways to stay there during the game.

Asking him to go out there and hit everything that moves is not going to do it.

Work with the skills he’s got, nurture them and make him into a more complete hockey player. As the maturity comes, his game will round into form. If not here, somewhere else.

And for a management team that is so big on “meat and potatoes”, I find it hard to fathom that they would overlook what’s already on their plate.

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  • Dirty30

    I don’t understand the surprise expressed that Kassian is such a good passer “for a guy his size”. I wasn’t aware that being shorter and weighing less made one better at passing a hockey puck. I was also unaware that growing past a certain height of being above a certain weight made someone worse at passing a hockey puck. Please explain.

    • Dirty30

      Small guys to get into the NHL need to be one of faster/skilled/smarter than an equivalent larger player. A big guy can get by simply by being large/tough and throwing hits around. Obviously changing now in today’s NHL as we don’t have pure enforcers anymore.

      Basically, its the time invested to learn certain skills.

  • Dirty30

    Nice ending, well done.

    I agree, it’s been really frustrating watching the management group regarding many things this year.

    I’m not sure there was any upgrade made at all; possibly a downgrade, I’ll way to see how it all turns out.