History of violence: Matthew Tkachuk-Zack Kassian feud

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The Matthew TkachukZack Kassian feud resumes on Wednesday (and then again on Saturday). That bubbling bitterness inspired retrospectives about “The Battle of Alberta,” but Tkachuk vs. Kassian is an entertaining history lesson on its own.

This post aims to summarize that history, which goes back a little further than some might remember.

Tkachuk – Kassian feud flares up in 2018

Amusingly, history already repeated itself with Kassian and Tkachuk. After all, the two basically went through a dress rehearsal of this current battle.

Kassian and Tkachuk went through similar beats (literally and figuratively) during the Flames’ 4-2 win over the Oilers on Nov. 17, 2018.

  • Tkachuk was involved in heavy-hitting that inspired additional violence. Leon Draisaitl lit Tkachuk up the hardest, in that case.
  • Kassian urged Tkachuk to fight. Tkachuk didn’t want to but (wait for it) Kassian forced the issue, anyway.
  • The Flames profited in Kassian taking multiple penalties.

Sound familiar? Enjoy footage of the prequel:

Much like this latest time, Tkachuk essentially shrugged his shoulders when asked about avoiding a fight with Kassian.

“Yeah,” Tkachuk said in Nov. 2018, if you can tell the difference. “Wasn’t going to fight that guy. Probably wouldn’t have been the smart thing at the time.”

In that November 2018 case, the Tkachuk – Kassian violence ranked as arguably a subplot in a larger battle (of Alberta). The stakes eventually heightened, as you know.

Kassian – Tkachuk feud hits a new peak

The brawl and fallout that dropped jaws around the hockey world took place on Jan. 11. This Sportsnet video captures the chaos:

Consider this the abridged version of the events:

  • Tkachuk clobbered Kassian with some big hits, which Kassian argued were “predatory.” Officials didn’t penalize Tkachuk, and Tkachuk didn’t receive supplemental discipline.
  • Kassian snapped and went after Tkachuk, who didn’t consent to a fight.
  • The Flames ended up capitalizing on the power play advantages stemming from Kassian blowing a gasket, scoring the game-winning goal.
  • Kassian received a two-game suspension for his actions.

Trash talk, Part I

Kassian and Tkachuk traded barbs right after the Flames’ win. Kassian called Tkachuk a “young punk” and other worse p-words. Tkachuk said if Kassian didn’t want to get hit, he should “stay off the tracks” and then twisted the knife by score-boarding Kassian with: “we’ll take the power play, we’ll take the game-winner, and we’ll move on to first place.”

Trash talk II: Chirp Harder

People criticize post-game interviews for being cliche-heavy, but they’re important because, in many cases, you get a rare natural reaction before cooler heads prevailed. Delightfully, Kassian still provided bulletin board (and billboard) material even after he had time to settle down.

Following word of his two-game suspension, Kassian claimed that Tkachuk “messed with the wrong guy.”

Kassian also set the stage for future intrigue, ominously stating that he observed explanations for Tkachuk’s hits being legal and “put that in the memory bank.”

The best thing to come from the Tkachuk Kassian feud

The NHL schedule fell incredibly well here, as the Flames and Oilers meet right as Kassian’s suspension ended. Thanks to the All-Star break, people have had plenty of time to hype things up, and to analyze Draisaitl bad-mouthing Tkachuk at said All-Star Game.

That mix of a quick turnaround, yet still weeks between games, also opened up time for something wonderful to happen. What began as a fun bit of trolling with Calgary fans trying to put up a Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton ended up being an enormous victory for various charities.

I’d argue it’s the best thing to come from the rivalry, even if the billboards don’t actually feature Tkachuk’s sneering face.

Previewing the next chapters in the Kassian – Tkachuk feud

So, how will things play out for Wednesday’s game in Edmonton and Saturday’s rematch in Calgary?

There are quite a few key factors to consider:

  • Plenty of eyes will be on these games, possibly limiting carnage. As you might expect, the NHL is sending a contingent of Player Safety reps and other experienced officials.
  • Kassian has — mostly — said all the right things about keeping a cool head. He’s said that “this isn’t the ’80s” and pointed to the standings. Then again, he did make those earlier remarks about noting what type of hits will be in his “memory bank.”
  • Tkachuk has shown repeatedly that he’s not interesting in fighting Kassian. The hockey math makes sense, after all, since Tkachuk is a star and Kassian is a role player.
  • These two teams are tight in the standings, and the Pacific Division is as volatile as this feud.

As you can see, very little separates the Pacific’s top five teams. So far, Tkachuk has successfully baited Kassian, and it’s clear Kassian has been spoken to. Two head-to-head games could be pivotal, particularly if both games end in regulation.

In other words, that violent history probably won’t repeat itself — not yet, and not to the same degree.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get hyped for the next two chapters in “The Battle of Alberta, though.” Kassian said it well:

“ … It’s good for the game,” Kassian said, via Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. “It’s about time we got a little passion and fire.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.