Has Kesler’s Return Fixed the Canucks Power-Play?

Ryan Kesler might be the key to a dangerous Canucks power-play.
Photograph by: Rich Lam/Getty Images North America

Headed into the lockout shortened 2013 season, the Vancouver Canucks had boasted one of the league’s most fearsome power-play units for about three years running. Conversion rates in the low-20s were the standard, and the team made a game plan of both "using the power-play as their enforcer," while also goading the opposition into taking penalties with a type of mental warfare we like to call "jerkpuck." 

This season the power-play goals dried up, and so have the power-play shots. It’s inexplicable really, I mean, how is it even possible for a team that employs two guys named Sedin to be in the bottom-five among all NHl teams in both power-play conversion rate and 5-on-4 shot rate? As it turns out, the key to Vancouver’s power-play success may have all along been, and is now again, an American centreman named Ryan Kesler.

Read on past the jump.

What’s most striking about the impact Ryan Kesler’s absence has had on Vancouver’s 5on4 play this season, is that the Canucks have weathered the loss of a handful of really talented offensive players without a discernible impact on their overall power-play effectiveness.

Christian Ehrhoff is a talented power-play quarterback, but Vancouver’s power-play barely missed a beat when he left the team following the 2010-11 season. Mikael Samuelsson was a versatile point producer with the man-advantage during his time in Vancouver, and similarly, when he was traded it had minimal impact on Vancouver’s five-on-four shot rate. Some people believe that Sami Salo was a critical cog in Vancouver’s power-play systems – and he might have been at five-on-three – but realistically, he hasn’t even played first unit minutes in Tampa this season and their power-play is godawful. The idea that his absence has been critical sort of beggars belief…

But the data does suggest that, in thirty games this season without Ryan Kesler, Vancouver’s power-play became anemic (in spite of the presence of Iron Man Henrik Sedin). I went through the event and game summaries found at NHL.com‘s boxscore pages to produce the below table, which basically gives us a snapshot of how the Canucks power-play has fared with Ryan Kesler in the lineup this season, and without him.

Editors Note: The data in the table only takes into account five-on-four power-play situations, and includes total five-on-four icetime for the team, total five-on-four shots on goal, five-on-four shot rate, and total conversion rate.

Here’s the data:

2013 Canucks 5on4 5-on-4 Time 5-on-4 Shots 5-on-4 SOG/60 Conversion Rate
With Kesler in the Lineup 52:51 42 47.68 21% (8 for 38)
Without Kesler 183:44 125 40.81 11.5% (11 for 96)

Here’s the basic takeaway from the data above: Vancouver’s power-play has been pretty good when Ryan Kesler is in the lineup, and completely pathetic when he’s on the shelf.

With Kelser in the Canucks lineup this season, the club’s five-on-four shot rate hovers a tick above average (albeit over a very small sample). Without Kesler in the lineup, the Canucks have generated 5-on-4 shots on goal at a worse rate than 28 of the 29 other NHL teams. Vancouver’s power-play is converting on five-on-four opportunities at a rate that would put them near the top-five in the league in power-play percentage when Kesler dresses this season. When he sits the power-play is worse at actually manufacturing goals than every other team in the NHL.  

The difference is completely enormous, even if it is somewhat percentage driven (the Canucks, as a team, are scoring on 19% of five-on-four shots with Kesler in the lineup, and on only 8.8% of five-on-four shots with Kesler out of the lineup). Indeed, there’s additional, compelling evidence that maybe this is just variance: Vancouver’s five-on-four shot rate with Ryan Kesler on the ice this season isn’t all that impressive, but their five-on-four goals-for rate is. The devil is in the percentages here, as the team has an on-ice sh% well above 17 with Kesler on the ice in a five-on-four game state.

Examining the fossil record though, I’m uncomfortable writing off Kesler’s impact on Vancouver’s power-play as "luck" or "variance" entirely. That just isn’t compelling when the Canucks have generated nearly 7 additional shots per sixty minutes of five-on-four ice-time in the eleven games in which Kesler has dressed this season. It’s just a massive number.

Ultimately I wouldn’t conclude that Ryan Kesler’s presence alone has "fixed" Vancouver’s power-play issues entirely, after all that 21% 5on4 conversion rate with Kesler in the lineup is skewed by some fortunate bounces. Also, the persistence of the team’s relatively average shot-rate suggests that, on its own, Kesler’s presence in the lineup only suffices to give Vancouver a run-of-the-mill power-play unit, as opposed to a completely terrible one…

Perhaps the team can take another step forward from "average" to "legitimately good" if they convert Daniel Sedin – whose personal power-play shot rate is kind of embarrassing this season – back to playing forward on the first power-play unit. Combine that common sense adjustment with another, and deploy Jason Garrison’s ridiculously dangerous D-to-D one-timer on the first unit as well and, fuck me, then the Canucks power-play might really be cooking with oil.

  • DCR

    I really want to see Garrison on the first unit during the playoffs. It may sound harsh, but I think his shot is just the thing to wear down the opposing team over the length of a series.

  • asdf

    Don’t understand why they’re so reluctant to play Edler and Garrison together on the point. The excuse of them both being lefthanded doesn’t hold much sway since it worked when Garrison scored 9 playing alongside another lefty in Brian Campbell.

  • DCR

    for some reason the photo at the top of this is so similar to the recap photo that it distresses me. im now distressed (otherwise good article)

    note: i dont think we’re gonna see garrison up there in the playoffs unless the PP REALLY needs to click after a long period of failure – they’re already probably gonna play him and hamhoos 30 mins a night

  • DCR

    Hey, if Garrison is making the 2nd pp unit legitimately dangerous too, I’m more than happy with him down there. The Canucks have plenty of guys who can shoot if they want on the first PP, tell them to shoot more instead (especially, like you said, Daniel Sedin)

  • DCR

    Probably stretching the sample size too far, but I’d bet that the shot rate since Kesler’s most recent return from injury is higher still. The injury during his first stint must have held him back a bit.