We aren’t even into the regular season yet, but things are already getting incredibly heated between two division rivals.
Yesterday, during a preseason game between the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver forward Zack Kassian aggressively over-pursued Oilers center Sam Gagner, resulting in Kassian wildly swinging his stick and breaking Gagner’s jaw. Who knows what caused Kassian to think throwing his stick at Gagner like Babe Ruth swinging at a fastball was a good idea. All we know is that he has an in-person meeting with the NHL. A suspension is all but guaranteed.
Gagner will be out of service for a while, due to undergo surgery tomorrow. However, one of his teammates has already began planning his revenge.
In speaking with Sportsnet, Oilers winger Ben Eager says his team has already circled the calendar for their next game against Vancouver, and they’ll be coming with bad intentions.
“We play them a lot down the stretch, and we’re going to go after their skill players also.”
This could get very ugly, and fast. We already know the Oilers and Canucks play each other a lot this year, so this may not be isolated to a one game incident. If Eager intends to make good on his claims, the Canucks aren’t likely to just let it happen. This could end up being a season-long feud that could get uglier by the game.
The NHL can’t afford to take these comments likely. Whether or not Eager eventually comes out to reporters to claim he was “just kidding,” expect the league to highly monitor each bout between these two, especially their next game.
We all remember how bad these situations can get if left disregarded. One of the league’s ugliest moments occurred in 2004, when Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore injured Canucks captain Markus Näslund. Several Vancouver players were very vocal about the injury, claiming they were putting a bounty on Moore. Sure enough, in the next game between these two, Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi jumped Moore from behind, punching him in the back of the head and slamming his face onto the ice. Moore ended up with three fractured vertebrae and a concussion, which effectively ended his career.
Was Eager just talking trash for the sake of responding to the injury of a teammate? That may very well be the case. But, the league should hardly approach the situation with this state of mind. If they don’t monitor this closely, we could be seeing another Bertuzzi incident in the making.