The NHL announced that Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian has been suspended seven games after kicking Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak in the chest in the first period of Tampa's 3-1 home win on Thursday.
Sportsnet provided video of Kassian's kick:
Diana C. Nearhos of the Tampa Bay Times offered background:
"Cernak was sitting on Kassian and fellow winger Josh Archibald, which should have been an interference penalty, but is a common move to keep someone (in this case someones) out of the play. Kassian pushed himself free and then aimed the kick at Cernak to get him off Archibald.
"The play started when Kassian grabbed onto Cernak. Archibald lost his footing and barreled into the pair, upending them. Cernak stayed on top of the pile for an extra few seconds.
"A linesman came up behind the play to break up the trio, but only a referee can call a penalty. Both referees were away from that pile watching the puck in play."
Kassian was not penalized Thursday and finished the game.
Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported that the suspension will cost Kassian $166,463.41.
In its video explaining the suspension decision, the NHL Department of Player Safety said that there was no justification for the kick even if Kassian was trying to get untangled from a pile of three players (including himself) on the ice and that he could have accomplished that task without kicking Cernak.
The league acknowledged Kassian's assertion that the kick was not forceful or malicious. However, the department said that the intent is irrelevant considering that the kick was illegal and put Cernak at "immediate risk of serious injury."
In summary, the league said that Kassian clearly kicked Cernak and noted that he's a repeat offender, having been suspended now four times during his career.
Sportsnet Stats noted that Kassian has been suspended a total of 47 games over his entire professional career, including stints with the OHL, AHL and IIHF.
Kassian is eligible to return to the ice on Saturday, Feb. 29 against the Winnipeg Jets at home.