Matthew Tkachuk has only been in the NHL for four seasons, but the reputation is already settling in for what kind of player he's going to be.
Surely he's a good one, as evidenced by the 34 goals and 77 points he scored for the Calgary Flames last season. And he's also an effective agitator that's already developed a heated, hated rivalry with LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
But the 22-year-old Tkachuk is also developing a reputation as a player that won't ever make himself accountable for what he does on the ice. Say what you want about guys like Tom Wilson and Brad Marchand that constantly flirt with going over the line, but they will also drop the gloves when the situation calls for it.
Tkachuk made a new enemy on Saturday night in the Battle of Alberta as he drilled Edmonton Oilers tough guy Zack Kassian multiple times, including a pair of borderline hits that knocked off Kassian's helmet upon impact.
People can say the hits were clean because he didn't lift his elbow or launch off his skates. But Tkachuk was also clearly looking to get head contact with a vulnerable player that was turned away from him.
Kassian finally had enough after the final time when no penalties were being called and rag-dolled Tkachuk in epic fashion while drilling him with a few punches when he wouldn't drop the gloves and settle it in old school fashion.
Zack Kassian lays a beating on Matthew Tkachuk pic.twitter.com/9WIHuZb0Wt
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 12, 2020
Kassian then let Tkachuk have it after the game as well.
"If you're going to hit like that you have to answer the bell once in a while. Especially 1, 2, 3…he followed me into the corner in the third and was clearly targeting me. All in all, he's just a young punk that has to figure out that aspect of the game," said a pretty frank Kassian to reporters following the game. "It's sad because he's a pretty good player, but he's a [expletive] to be honest. Straight-up. That's the definition of it. He wouldn't fight me two years ago because I was a fourth liner, and now I have 14 goals. What's the excuse now?"
As far as most were concerned, the matter was settled on the ice as it has been in the NHL for decades. Tkachuk ran around without the refs stopping him, and then Kassian sent a message for it to stop in a sequence that ultimately set up the Flames to win the game when the Oilers power forward lost his cool.
Nobody got hurt and the Battle of Alberta had some real heat between the Flames and Oilers for the first time in a long time.
Not so bad, right?
Well, now the NHL Department of Player Safety has forced their way into the situation just like NHL linesmen are forcing their way into on-ice disagreements that used to organically escalate into combatants dropping the gloves. The Player Safety Department announced they will hold a phone hearing for the Oilers forwards "Roughing/Aggressor" role in the fracas.
Since when is the aggressor the guy that got wallpapered into the boards from behind?
Kassian is probably looking at a suspension similar to the two-game sentence tossed at Milan Lucic when he jumped Blue Jackets forward Kole Sherwood, and Tkachuk isn't facing any discipline after rattling Kassian's cage throughout the game.
Maybe the NHL will handle it the proper way and simply slap Kassian with a fine rather than a more draconian suspension for doing what many NHL players want to do to Tkachuk.
It's another example of the NHL protecting a rat-type player that doesn't want to answer for their predatory actions on the ice and instead going after somebody that was defending themselves in the way they know best.
One player is pretty clearly trying to knock the other one's head off while lining him up for hits that he doesn't see coming. The other one is simply trying to curtail the action albeit by throwing the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Tkachuk around like he's a child that snuck his way into a men's league hockey game.
There are times when the NHL is stepping in and Disney-ifying a league that was built on hard hits, rivalries and hatred on the ice, and going far away from part of what drew many fans to the game in the first place. This is one of them.
There were no concussion and no injuries. There was no collateral damage. This was about two players that settled things the old-fashioned way on the ice and a league that needs to get out of the way in the rare instances when it's still handled the right way between players these days.