Zack Kassian

Zack Kassian hopes to make Sabres’ roster, walk the line between physical and illegal hits

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There will be plenty of debate about the wisdom of the Buffalo Sabres’ spending spree, but when it comes to the makeup of the teams’ fleet of forwards, there should be little question that the team leans more toward finesse than last season. From their skilled set of wingers to new acquisition Ville Leino and rehabbed center Derek Roy, the team might lack a bit of sandpaper – especially since rugged defensive players such as Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are no longer on the roster.

His future might not look as bright until the salary cap dust settles, but one forward who might try to fill that physical void is polarizing prospect Zack Kassian. The 13th overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has become notorious for his thunderous – and some might say, dirty – hits, particularly two blows that earned him suspensions.

Kassian admitted that he regrets the hit he landed on Matt Kennedy that earned him a 20-game suspension in his first game with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. He believes that the negative attention from that check on Kennedy bled into the decision to suspend him for what he believes was a clean hit during the 2011 World Junior Championships.

One can debate the validity of Kassian’s claims, but it’s likely that he will make an impact in Buffalo sooner or later. Again, the Sabres need to sort out their cap issues – they’re currently about $3.6 million above the ceiling. Once they do, Kassian could bring an intriguing mix of size, physicality and scoring prowess to the table at an affordable $875K cap hit … if he can manage to avoid getting suspended.

Kassian will try to make the Buffalo Sabres out of training camp next month, but even if he is unsuccessful, logic suggests he will end up in uniform at some point this season. He has so much of what the Sabres seem to need, with a low salary cap hit off the ice and the lurking promise of a massive hit on the ice.

“I need to play with an edge, but I have to make sure I don’t cross that edge,” he said Tuesday. “With all the skill Buffalo has, I think they need some grit and definitely some people that are hard to play against to give those skilled guys some room. I feel like I can fill that job, and hopefully, I can do it sooner than later.”

The Sabres picked Kassian 13th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and they have seen their prospect earn nationwide exposure in Canada for reasons both good and bad. He has been a Memorial Cup champion and a member of Canada’s national junior team, but he has also briefly been the star of junior hockey’s most wanted list.

It’s likely that Kassian will be on the Sabres’ radar until he makes a prolonged impact at the NHL level, but he’ll also get plenty of attention from officials who are aware of his lower moments. If Kassian can find a way to bring that edge without going over the line, he’ll be a serious asset for Buffalo. That might be a big if, though.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals at Flyers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals checks Brandon Manning #23 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” on NBCSN features the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers.

Both teams have been stumbling a bit here and there. The Flyers only have three wins since Jan. 31, though one of them came in their last game on Sunday. The Capitals lost both games since returning from their bye week.

The cost of struggles are easier for Washington to stomach, naturally. They’d rather make their Metropolitan Division lead insurmountable, but even so, they’re at least three points ahead of everyone else and have played the same or fewer games as their divisional peers.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. Right now they’re on the outside looking in.

So both teams want this one, but the desperation level is higher for Philly. We’ll see how that impacts the game on NBCSN tonight. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Pre-game reading: NHLers sound off on poor ice conditions

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— Up top, Danny Briere recalls that famous line brawl between the Flyers and Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. The two Pennsylvania rivals meet again Saturday, outdoors at Heinz Field.

— It has not been a good year for NHL ice, and a number of players are starting to get fed up. For example, Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who said, “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place.” Guess we know how he’ll be filling out his survey. (ESPN)

— The days leading up to the trade deadline can be pretty stressful for players who may get moved. And if they do get moved, the days after can be pretty tough, too. “I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” said Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, who’s been dealt three straight years at the deadline. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.” (The News & Observer)

— On the 2017 NHL draft, which may not have the star power of the last two drafts, but will still have some pretty good players available. Especially centers. (USA Today)

— San Jose’s Brent Burns is trying to become only the second defenseman in NHL history to win a scoring title. With 64 points, Burns is only three points back of Connor McDavid for the league lead, with Sidney Crosby in the mix as well. Bobby Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the last time in 1974-75 when he piled up 135 points in 80 games for the Boston Bruins.  (Canadian Press)

— Another Shark, Joe Thornton, is just two assists from 1,000 in the NHL. Only 12 players have accomplished that, with Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers leading the way. Joe Sakic’s 1,016 are the closest to Thornton’s 998. (The Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

Ryan Callahan
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Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.

 

Kadri ‘not worried’ after Chiarot predicts revenge for big hit (Video)

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Toronto forward Nazem Kadri drew the ire of Jets d-man Ben Chiarot on Tuesday night for a big — albeit questionable — hit in the Leafs’ OT win.

Chiarot was visibly displeased following the game and alluded to getting even.

“It’s not the right time or place to chase him down, but there will be a time down the line,” he said, per Sportsnet. “Might not be this year, might not be next year.

“But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

Today, Kadri responded.

“I’m not worried at all,” Kadri said, per TSN. “I’ll be here for hopefully a few years. But like I said, if that was one of my teammates getting hit like that, I probably wouldn’t be too happy, so I expect that kind of reaction.”

Kadri’s hit, which went unpenalized, drew the ire of Chiarot’s head coach as well. Jets bench boss Paul Maurice was also visibly displeased following the game.

“He’s six inches in the air when he makes contact,” Maurice said, per Sportsnet. “In my mind, from the rear view, the first thing that moves on Benny is the helmet. Didn’t like it.”

Kadri’s been involved in a few high-profile collisions this season. He pasted Sabres captain Brian Gionta in a game earlier this month, and avoided suspension for a controversial hit on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin back in November.