Curious what my counterpart Kyle Kiekenapp had to say about Kesler’s contract? Well go ahead and click right here to find out! And don’t forget to let us know which side you stand on in the comments section!
The Anaheim Ducks are injured, leaking goals, couldn't hit the net if it were 10 ft wider, and many fans once bountiful cups of patience have dried out into rusted out broken tins of gum leaves. Fans are either screaming into sewer grates demanding that Bob Murray make a move to remedy this situation (6 games in no less), or they’re confident that the return of the injured players will fix all the woes.
For those unaware of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or those who need cliff notes for a school assignment, the albatross was once considered a good luck charm before todays version of it being a harbinger of doom. The narrator of the story in question killed the albatross and great misfortune befell the crew. The crew eventually had the narrator wear the albatross about his neck as a type of penance.
How does this fit the topic? Well when you're able to trade Sbisa for an NHL player thats about as lucky as it gets. Hell, I'm amazed someone picked him up for free in an expansion draft, presumably on purpose. That the player coming back for Sbisa has been a runner up (Stanley Cup bridesmaid, silver at the Olympics) at most levels of competition, and has two years remaining on his deal, bodes well. Then the narrator of our Rime, the illustrious GM Bob Murray, went out of his way to extend said player for the next 100 dog years and did so for a sizeable chunk of change. Given those in support of the extension at the time more or less expected it to be bought out in 2-3 years very much gives the appearance of brutally, horrifically, savagely, murdering that albatross dead... somewhat ironically given the deal has been widely panned as a new age albatross. For those lost at home, I’m of course talking about Ryan Kesler.
Kesler is currently sitting on the pine, rehabilitating after surgery on his old old hips. An injury that is likely to take him some time to come back from and is likely to slow him down. Many fans are waiting eagerly for him to return to action and believe that he will cure all the ill’s of the team; that goals will be scored, that goals will be stopped, and probably other stuff too. So will Kesler return as the albatross of legend, the good luck charm sailors bet on for smooth sailing, or will Bob Murray be hanging the dead carcass of Keslers contract about his neck as the Ducks continue to free-fall to the bottom?
Getting back on defence
Before he was a Duck, Kesler was a
gross and dirty Canuck Selke Trophy winner. Since he's been a glorious and majestic Duck, he's been a Selke bridesmaid. With that kind of resume, and a tower reputation for defensively responsible hockey you’d expect that Kesler returning will shore up the defensive side of the ledger and reduce the goals allowed.
The oft spoken relationship between shots and goals... how does Kesler measure up? One would naturally assume that a distinguished defensive player would be a giant amongst men, and one would be correct - 44.17 CA/60, a stellar 61.97 CF%, 7 gorgeous GWGs, +12 on an average team, and 60.1% on the face-off dot - if one was discussing Patrice Bergeron. Somehow he only took 24 penalty minutes as well, so he almost never short handed his team. But enough about deserving Selke winners with reasonable contracts, we want to know about Kesler.
Kesler was the 11th ranked forward on the Ducks for corsi attempts against per 60 (Emerson Etem and Michael Sgarbossa not included) with only Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, Nate Thompson, Joseph Cramarossa, Patrick Eaves and Ryan Garbutt of the “regular skaters” ranked lower.
Sure, but not all shots are created equal you say?
The high number of attempts against, translated to utterly last on team rankings for scoring chances against per 60 (29.56) and 11th overall of HDSCA (11.42). On a league level (minimum 200 minutes played) this made him the 282nd best forward for preventing shots at ES, 372nd for preventing scoring chances against, and 339th for preventing high danger scoring chances. That seems kinda not good to me. Is it not good?
The high number of shots and scoring chances against likely, at least in part, feeds from his inability to strip the puck from others (0.75 takeaways per 60) - only Boll, Garbutt and Chris Wagner were worse on the team last season -, and to attempt to block more shots. In this respect he was the #2 shot blocking forward (2.70 per 60) on the team behind Ryan Getzlaf. However a key point of difference is that Getzlaf also was a takeaway master who often stripped the puck prior to the shot. Because of this his shot suppression numbers were superior.
So he doesnt prevent shots, or dangerous chances, and he can't take the puck away from others. In addition to these factors, Keslers propensity for high number of blocks translated to a on-ice save percentage that was the 5th worst on the team, despite having a 100.1% PDO. Typically, a greater number of shots would increase save percentages, but Kesler allowed a lot from dangerous areas.
Well, if not at ES, perhaps the former Selke winner - who ranked in the top 3 again last season - is a master of the penalty kill. Certainly Randy Carlyle saw it that way and played him greatly in that role. Kesler finished the season #1 on the ducks, with 222:01 minutes on the penalty kill. Near enough to a full minute more per game than the next highest played forwards in Cogliano and Getzlaf.
In that role he saw the 2nd lowest on-ice save percentage on the team with more than 10% of shots going in on his shifts (89.54 OISV%). Unfair you cry, its #ironicgibbytime. But Kesler also had the 2nd poorest CF%, and CA/TOI, on the Ducks. This translated to giving up the most scoring chances per minute and the 2nd most scoring chances from high danger situations per minute (on team). At a league level, only 24 more players had more shots against per 60 (64.59), only 15 other players had more scoring chances against per 60 (69.45), and only 8 more players had more high-danger scoring chances against per 60 (30.81).
The incredibly high number of scoring chances is very likely in part due to “the system” (use hand signals for quotation marks as you're reading, for full affect) employed by coach Carlyle. Although it highlights an observation that Kesler is often a high forward slow to get back on defence. If this is true it would rationalise that the opposition forward getting space directly out from the net and getting shots away.
However, Kesler’s numbers can't be completely blamed on the coach given Kesler’s poor shot prevention at even strength as well.
It is difficult to pinpoint a change in penalty kills between seasons at present due to the sheer number of injuries. In addition to Kesler being out, Hampus Lindholm (2:26 TOI/66 GP), Sami Vatanen (2:09 TOI /71 GP) and Clayton Stoner (2:12 TOI/14 GP) are all missing from the regular penalty killers. Taken together this has meant that players like Wagner, Josh Manson and Fowler have all increased their PK TOI by nearly a minute and a half. The accumulated effect is an increase in corsi attempts against. However, it should be noted that high danger attempts are stable between years, and that the Ducks are getting pucks deeper on the counter punch than last season. Perhaps an indication of increased speed on the penalty kill, with an increased usage of Cogliano and Wagner amongst the forwards. It also may in part be due to an improved number of face-off wins. As Felix mentioned here, Kesler’s face-off numbers are not proportional to his towering reputation, and Wagner has in fact won a greater percentage of draws. The question of whether Kesler can positively impact the penalty kill will likely be resolved as Lindholm and Vatanen return in the near future. I’m will to bet that their return strengthens it to a point above last years model.... PPC* aside
Well if not on the defensive side of the puck, maybe on offence? Right?
Alright, so he plays a little more and produces a little less than the average 2C per minute, but conversely to some, I believe that offensively Kesler shines... well relatively. Per 60min at even strength, and with minimum of 200 min played, Kesler shined to be 2nd for primary (0.75) and total assists (1.12) on the team. For the most part, these assists came from passing plays rather than others scoring off his rebounds which gives him some credence as a playmaking pivot. That he rarely gives away the puck compared to his contemporaries (1.58 GiveAways/60) adds to this. In addition Kesler produced at a 10.53% clip on 6.20 shots per 60 minutes, to rank 8th on the team for G/60 (0.65). This is most likely due to getting to dangerous areas on the ice as opposed to volume shooting. That said, it may also be a point in Keslers favour going forward. While overall scoring (and goal scoring) typically deteriorates with age, assist rates usually remain relatively high compared to peaks. Thus if Kesler can transition into more of a playmaker, his value as an offensive player may remain high.
Although, given the assist numbers are below the average for a generic 2C, theres a little condemnation on the list as a whole, and should help to confirm - at least part of the reason - why the Ducks scoring has deteriorated over the past few years. Not ironically, since Kesler has been a Duck.
For a short while last season, Kesler was so blindingly hot on the power play you couldnt look directly at him as you’d instantly go blind. Rumours were made that he had to soak his uniform in the tears of orphans so they didn't spontaneously combust into flames, he was that damn hot.
And then October was over and he never scored again. I jest.... but 4 goals (total) from mid-Jan through Feb, March, and April, isnt.... awesome. Especially since almost no scoring was done on the road. In fact are we sure Kesler travels with the team? Counting stats, you'd never know - only 4 assists on the road (3 in one game) in the last couple months.
But hockey gods be damned he was so freaking hot early that his numbers were never beaten. At least not in terms of goals. 8 gorgeous power play markers to call his own. 20 power play points to take an equal share of the team lead, with-leading-point-in-league-getter-after-christmas-Getzlaf, and why-didn't-I-get-more-power-play-time-Perry.
On the top power play unit, he was able to feast of Getzlaf’s brilliance (well Perry’s actually, since he assisted on a lot of Kesler’s goals early), and pour the shots on net. 2nd on team with 119.01 CF%, numero uno for scoring chances with 70.19 (and 19th overall in the league), and 4th for high danger chances with 90.37.
Sure his well ran dry in the second half of the season, but if he can keep seasonal stats like he did last year, that will go a long way towards the Ducks having two effective power plays. Given power play scoring largely remains unchanged given age, this is a plausible option. He may not always be a #1 power play option, but to eek value out of the remaining years on this contract, he should - in my opinion - be given power play time. Whether he and Perry can co-exist shouldn't be an issue given they both ended up with the same number of power play points (20 points, for a share of the team lead and 14th overall in the league - mid 30s by pure number of bodies). The question is whether fans can stomach one of them not scoring goals. A question that so far has been a resounding no.
Kesler has taken 29 minor penalties in each of the past two seasons, with last season ranked him 19th in the league. He’s ranked second on the Ducks for total penalty minutes each of the past 2 years. This is likely due in part, to the clutch and grab hockey he plays as a “defensive” player. However, the impact that increasing penalty minutes has a knock on affect to the rest of the team and the overall results. These results can be taken in two different directions:
A) Taking penalties is a strategy. Last season the Ducks won 44% of their games against top 10 teams, 66% against middle 10 teams and 54% against bottom 10 teams. The strongest relationship between all of the counting stats and goal scoring is penalty minutes.
It could be that the Ducks need to be a team of goons to suck other teams in and get them off their game. I jest....kinda. It’s hard not to take it somewhat seriously, when you consider that the trend has crossed to this season as well.
But team of goons aside, most likely the causative factor impacting penalty rates is having older and slower players taking the bulk of the minutes. Kesler and Corey Perry are both high minute earners and have the highest totals for minor penalties over the past 2 seasons. Playing clutch and grab hockey is likely a result of them needing to slow the game down to their pace. Once the puck in on their stick, the game slows to their pace naturally, but when the puck is away from them they need to slow the pace to gain it back. This is particularly true of Kesler as we can see above that when he doesn’t have the puck, shots against go up significantly. How that flows into the different tiers is that bad teams can't hang with the Ducks anyway, and top-tier teams are more skill based and play their own game despite what else is happening on the ice around them. They simply know their game back to front, and they know not to get sucked in to the Ducks style. Which leaves the middle 10. It’s a tougher group that is trying to get into the top 10 mix, and in most cases isn't skilled enough to be there. These teams plausibly attempt to overcome that skill differential with “grit” and “effort,” knowing that arousal levels increase with physical exertion. The myth that greater effort wins games is likely contained somewhere in this spectrum.
Perhaps, just perhaps, that middle tier group is more easily sucked into a high hitting game. That high number of hits increases aggression, which further increases the likelihood of making illegal plays (i.e. slashing, instigator). If the Ducks can increase their time on the power play, they are more likely to score given their woes at even strength. Given the PK was a source of relative strength, its a payoff the coaching staff were happy with. If this is a legitimate strategy, then Kesler taking a high number of penalties plays to the coaching staff’s desires. Given the Ducks finished on top of the division standings last season its plausible.
B) Increasing penalty killing time is likely to increase the affect of fatigue for the defending team. The affects of fatigue are myriad, however have been linked to a decrement in technique, decreases in joint angular torque and subsequent biomechanical performance, joint stability, and decreases in muscle power output, amongst other things. With these issues is a likely decrement in successful execution of skills.
Since Kesler has been a Duck, there has been a increasing trend in minor penalties taken, and a deterioration in goal scoring from a high of 3.21 to a low of 2.62.
Obviously he hasn’t played this season, yet we’re already seeing an increase in the number of minor penalties called. It’s likely that Kesler’s would increase in tandem with other players, given his history of calls; lets be honest amongst ourselves here, the Ducks are old and slow, and Kesler is old and likely to be slower now than he was - which was about average at best. However, back on point, we can see that as penalties increase, goal scoring has dropped away. Causation is likely multitude, partially due to less time available for scoring hockey (ES-PK=what’s the opposite of profit?), decrements in technique reducing ability to perform high end skills, and a lack of genuine scoring options on the roster. If this scenario is more likely than the other, then the high number of penalties that Kesler takes is more harmful to the team than not.
Sure, this could be taken as hard work, grit, and sandpaper. He really makes sure the opposition has put the work in at practice. That work being, of course, their powerplay.
A further point of contention is Kesler’s contract.
Given Kesler counting stats are largely similar to the generic 2C when accounting per minute, it raises the question of whether his deal is of value to the Ducks. Similar players like Backes (comparison above) suggest that Kesler may be slightly overpaid. However Backes may not have fit in the Ducks line up... that said, I'm not sure that Kesler fits back in his normal spot in the line up.
Through the first 6 games last season the Kesler-Cogliano-Silfverberg line went 3G-4A-7P. Through the first 6 games this season the newly formed Rakell-Cogliano-Silfverberg line went off for 4G-7A-11P. This comes on the back of all three players improving high danger scoring chances (Rakell +6%, Silfverberg +8.14%, Cogliano +2.46%), Rakell and Silf improving their CF% (Rakell +1.26%, Silfverberg +6.76%), and Silf improving the number of general scoring chances he creates (+8.74%). Kesler obviously wins more face-offs at even strength, but given how productive (and almost young, oh god relative youth!) the current line has been compared to this stage last season, it may be a good idea to run with it and put some support around them.
If Rakell is the 2C of the future, then Kesler’s money would be better spent elsewhere. An elusive left wing for Getzlaf perhaps. The Ducks have perhaps the biggest divide between their top and bottom 6 forwards in the league. A further top 6 player wouldn't alter that...but they need goals and it’s far easier to replace one player than six. It’s a thought.
It’s not my purpose within this article to suggest that Kesler is over-rated (he is), or that the Ducks should try to trade him (they should). Right now he's a Duck and he has a NMC that should last until he's hobbling around on a zimmer frame (what already?). So what do we do with him?
Can the Ducks win the cup with him as the 2C? Arguably no. He’s too expensive to allow for other help to be acquired, can't defend (which is a problem as its his perceived role), is a below average sorcerer for his position (by TOI), doesn't play that well away from home, and quite frankly has a history of being second best - the guy just isn't a winner. If Puckalytics was still alive you could see that he faltered against top-tier players as well. Just because his onerous contract and average play isn't the good luck albatross that we all wish it was, shouldn't mean the Ducks can't collect playoff revenue for another year or two until the division passes them by, right?
Given all of the above, it seems clear that Kesler is being misused as a defensive forward. It’s incredibly unlikely that perception changes and his role is altered. However, I would argue that he has a lot more value as an offensively orientated player. I’m not really a strong believer that defensive zone starts really impact offensive numbers, and more believe that poor offensive players get pushed into more defensive starts. That said, Kesler isn't really that person though. He puts up relatively good offensive numbers, and freeing him of a defensive responsibility he can't really handle, could unshackle an offensive beast...well you know if he had an offensive player to go with. At present Rakell is making sweet music with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg and they're doing so with Kesler’s defensive start numbers. If this can be maintained...a third scoring line based around Kesler could be worthwhile in pursuing. I’m not sure Nick Ritchie is the guy I would put there, but that’s a another question for another day.
Or should the Ducks chase a cup? The Ducks surely do miss Kesler’s level of offence, but whether they require his 50 points or just 50 points from anyone, remains to be seen. It has been a low scoring slow start, but not the slowest start in recent seasons. A versatile sorcerer (was meant to be scorer, but auto correct... and i like this better) like former 30 goal scorer Alex Galchenyuk could fit on the LW or take spot duty at centre. I find it hard to imagine Montreal doesn't find Kesler attractive given he played god awfully bad with an injury to finish last season and in the playoffs - the sheer underwhelming grit! RARRRRR, you can just feel the manly old time hockey coursing through his veins. Maybe Matt Duchene, who's seemingly been on the block forever? Apparently Colorado is in the hunt for Galchenyuk, so why not get in first and give them a guy who's going to be stuck there forever? Or James Neal, the versatile tool we'd love to hate - Perry 2.0 so to speak - that Vegas drafted almost specifically to trade for prospects and picks. Hell Murray already has trade history there and no one else wants to trade with them.
Or perhaps Kyle convinced you with his propaganda piece, you've turned masochistic/sadistic (depending on your point of view), hate winning cups or big games, and you want Kesler back in his traditional Ducks role? Let me know your thoughts.
What do we do with our very own Coleridge Albatross?
This poll is closed
Snog (Introduce him to a scoring role)
Marry (Slide straight back into his old role)
Avoid (Trade his sorry ass for pucks)
* All current season data is correct up until prior to the Philadelphia Flyers game on the 24th October.
* PPC = piss poor coaching. Don't act like you’re surprised.