Rabid Habs

Diamond In The Rough Or Foolish Pipe Dream: The Intriguing Case Of Zack Kassian

Zack Kassian Photo - nhl.com

To date, Montreal’s off season has been less eventful than many Habs fans had hoped. As July slowly melts into August, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Canadiens will enter the coming season with a less than imposing group of forwards, lacking the scoring depth necessary to be considered serious contenders. While other Eastern Conference foes were busy shopping around for high end scoring talent such as Phil Kessel, Brandon Saad and Ryan O’Reilly, Marc Bergevin decided to conserve his assets and go bargain hunting, landing former first round pick Zack Kassian. In return, Bergevin sent the Canucks beloved foot soldier Brandon Prust. To sweeten the pot and demonstrate how eager they were to dump Kassian, the Canucks also tossed in a 5th round pick. Somewhere Trevor Timmins is smiling.

Kassian, a hulking winger with surprisingly soft hands who will turn 25 in January, is coming off a tumultuous year marred by a nagging back injury. Overcoming the back problems that shortened his 2014-2015 campaign will be crucial.

Fortunately, Zack will not require off season surgery and should be ready to go for training camp in September. Marc Bergevin has downplayed the injury, calling it non-structural. Yet you can’t help but think that this injury played a role in Vancouver’s willingness to part with a player who was once thought to be a big part of their future.

The biggest question mark surrounding Kassian has nothing to do with his wonky back however. His sub-par effort level, atrocious defensive play and over-indulgence in the Vancouver nightlife made him a regular resident of coach Willie Desjardins‘s dog house. Despite having all of the tools to be a force in the NHL, Kassian has been plagued by his inability to embrace the responsibilities required to be a successful pro. If he hopes to turn his career around, he’s going to have to fundamentally alter his approach and mindset.

Enter Michel Therrien

At first glance, a Kassian/Therrien relationship has all the makings of an absolute train wreck. A player known to be a liability in his own end who struggles to maintain an adequate compete level coupled with a demanding, defense-first coach who is far from an artful communicator seems like a comically poor fit. It’s almost certain that we’ll see Kassian stapled to the bench and/or relegated to the press box on at least a few occasions this season. The key will be how Kassian responds to this adveristy. Will he rise up to the challenge or will he remain stuck in the same pattern which has driven him to the edge of NHL oblivion?

Despite all of his flaws, Therrien’s kick you in the ass brand of motivational therapy might be just what is needed to awaken this sleeping giant. For Therrien, this is an opportunity to silence some of his critics. Helping Zack get back on track would help stem the negative anti-Therrien tide that continued to gain momentum after a disappointing end to the season. Establishing a constructive working relationship could go a long way in extending both of their stays in Montreal. Of course, if things go sour, those same critics will be quick to pile on the embattled coach, blaming him for his inability to get the best out of yet another promising talent.

Some Canuck fans have been lamenting the fact that Kassian could become Montreal’s version of Todd Bertuzzi, the late blooming power forward who helped make the Canucks into a force to be reckoned with a decade ago. It was after all Iron Mike Keenan, the grand master of  hardasses, who helped Bertuzzi turn his career around. Will Therrien be able to have a similar impact on Kassian’s career?

Although the Kassian/Therrien soap opera should make for some interesting story-lines, the real story will be how Zack Kassian spends his time in between games. Bergevin has got to be banking on Montreal’s leadership core being able to keep Zack focused on hockey and away from the Montreal nightlife. He said all the right things after the trade, sounding like a man who’s determined to make a change and knows what’s at stake. If he can come to camp healthy and hungry, he’ll be given a legitimate shot at earning  a spot on one of the top two lines. If he doesn’t, this thing could go sideways pretty quickly, as Michel Therrien is not a man famous for his patience.

If the Kassian experiment fails, the Habs will be able to walk away from the big man as he becomes an RFA at the end of the season, making his addition a very low-risk move. It’s hard not to like what Marc Bergevin has done here. He’s managed to trade a redundant, aging, overpaid player for a pair of lottery tickets, the first of which could have a huge payoff. Zack Kassian will have everything to play for this year and should come in with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove he belongs in the NHL. With the proper organizational support and an honest commitment to improving on and off the ice, Zach Kassian could prove to be a very savvy acquisition and help provide some much needed offensive punch to a line-up starving for goals.

4 Comments

  1. William

    July 24, 2015 at 12:54 am

    I hope it works out but if the nightlife was a problem in Van. it could be worse here. Gastown would close at 1am, here 3am thats 2 more hours to party. Heres hoping it works out.

  2. noah

    July 24, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Not sure why some guys just don’t get how special and how fleeting it is to be in the NHL. It has nothing to do with therrien and everything to do with zack. Either HE wants to succeed or he doesn’t. All he has to do is focus his mind, grow up and understand what can be his, IF he wants it to be. Its not complicated but it does take discipline and a real inner desire. Its all right there for him. He just has to rise to the challenge. Its not even about hockey per se. Its about life choices. Good luck zack.

  3. Marc Checknita

    July 24, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    I think the important thing is that he isn’t there in the first place. I want Zack Kassian home before 11pm every night!

  4. Marc Checknita

    July 25, 2015 at 12:06 am

    While Therrien will have some influence, hopefully positive, I agree that it has to come down to Zack deciding he wants to be a professional hockey player for another ten years. If he doesn’t turn things around this season, he could easily find himself out of the league by this time next year.