Rick Tocchet is going to keep his distance.
Quinn Hughes, meanwhile, says it would be a lie to say he wasn’t interested to see how things play out.
Even though Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl missed Thursday’s media session ahead of the NHL’s all-star weekend, the Edmonton Oilers’ renewed rivalry with the Calgary Flames — and namely Matthew Tkachuk — was still front and centre.
“I’m staying out of that one,” said Tocchet, who will coach the Pacific Division in Saturday’s 3-on-3 tournament.
Hughes, a rookie defenceman for the Vancouver Canucks, added he’ll be watching the locker room dynamic closely.
“At the same time, it’s not my business,” said the 20-year-old. “I’m here to have fun and enjoy everyone’s company.”
That certainly hasn’t been the case during the recent bubbling over of the Battle of Alberta.
Tkachuk, the Flames’ star winger and chief antagonist, levelled Zack Kassian with two crunching body checks on Jan. 11 in Calgary that twice sent the bruising Edmonton winger’s helmet flying.
Tkachuk subsequently declined an invitation to fight, but the latter still got in a series of punches after the second hit as his opponent turtled, earning himself a two-game suspension.
The fiery exchange — one that used to happen far more frequently in days gone, as pointed out by some of the league’s older players — stirred debate across hockey.
“If he doesn’t want to get hit, then stay off the tracks,” Tkachuk said post-game. “If he wants to react like that, we’ll take the power play, we’ll take the game-winner.”
And the feud stayed top of mind as both sides doubled and even tripled down in its wake as a war of words raged.
Draisaitl said he would “probably get off the ice” if asked to skate alongside Tkachuk during the all-star game’s 3-on-3 tournament, while Kassian, who’s eligible to return to the lineup when the Oilers and Flames meet Monday in Edmonton, went even further.
“You play with fire, eventually you’re going to get burned,” Kassian said of Tkachuk’s unwillingness to drop the gloves, adding he has “a great memory.”
“He messed with the wrong guy. I don’t think he realizes we’re in the same division.”
McDavid, who posted a video of himself doing a stickhandling drill to Twitter on Thursday afternoon, and Draisaitl’s absence from the media festivities at a theatre adjacent to Enterprise Center left Tkachuk to answer most of the questions about how he expects things to go down.
“This isn’t an event to talk about stuff like that,” Tkachuk said. “This is an event where the best players in the sport are coming here and playing on the same team and going out and having some fun, putting a show on for the fans. I’m looking forward to doing that and being around the locker room with all these guys.
“(McDavid and Draisaitl) are some of the best in the NHL, so to share a room with them and to be on the ice with them, it’s going to be awesome.”
Tocchet said there isn’t nearly the same animosity in hockey as when he played, but added the spice provides an extra layer.
“I enjoy the storylines,” said Tocchet, the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes. “I’ll probably want to watch that game (on Monday). A lot of people will want to watch that game.”
“It’s part of a big rivalry,” added Blues centre Ryan O’Reilly, who will suit up for the Central Division. “Things between those guys, I’m sure they’ll settle it somehow.”
Tkachuk, who grew up in St. Louis when his father was playing for the Blues, said he doesn’t expect any trouble when the Oilers’ contingent eventually arrives.
“We all have something in common,” he said. “We’re all all-stars, and we’re all here to participate and put on a show for the fans.
“That’s the best part about hockey players … you can play hard against each other 82 games a year and see them one night in the summer and be buddies. That’s what makes the sport so great.”
Fans, former players and pundits weighed in on the Flames-Oilers fisticuffs in its aftermath, with many criticizing Tkachuk’s unwillingness to answer the bell — something he completely ignored.
“I do not pay attention to it,” he said. “I don’t check Twitter, I don’t watch a ton of TV. Whether it’s positive or negative, I don’t really listen to anybody unless they’re people close to me.”
One person who’s extremely close is brother Brady, a winger with the Ottawa Senators added to the Atlantic Division roster when Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews was unable to go because of a wrist injury.
“It’s important for me to take in everything that comes with this weekend,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “It’s exciting that we get to share this moment.”
TOCCHET RECEIVED GALLANT’S BLESSING
Gerard Gallant was slated to be behind the Pacific Division bench until the Vegas Golden Knights fired their head coach last week. That opened the door for Tocchet, but before accepting, he spoke with Gallant. “I wanted to get his blessing,” Tocchet said. “I feel kind of bad about it.”