Chemistry – Do Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows have it?

Reading over Blake’s post from yesterday, stumbling across this line, and though back to a day when such a statement would be considered sacrilege:

Burrows hasn’t shown a strong chemistry with Kesler in the past…

The truth is that Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler don’t often play together at even strength any more, and when they do, the Canucks tend to get out-scored. This probably something to do with the fact that when Burrows is sided up with Ryan Kesler, the two face some extra-ordinarily tough competition. There’s no way to quantify that unfortunately, but we CAN say that Kesler’s primary parter on the penalty kill over the last five seasons has been Burrows.

While we can’t break down quality of competition or other types of usage metrics over at Hockey Analysis, the player pages are excellent for showing time on ice, goals, points, and shots on goal with and without a particular player. When you look and see how Kesler does with Chris Higgins, David Booth and Jannik Hansen, it re-affirms not only what Blake wrote yesterday, but Thom’s contention that the Canucks’ haven’t exactly benefit from a Burrows-Kesler partnership:

  Goals/60 Points/60 Shots/60
With Higgins 0.67 1.59 8.54
With Hansen 0.60 1.55 8.10
With Booth 0.45 1.24 7.98
Without Burrows 0.84 1.74 7.93
Without Booth 0.92 1.74 7.88
Without Hansen 0.87 1.65 7.85
With Burrows 0.62 0.83 7.68
Without Higgins 0.88 1.64 7.62

(That is since the start of the 2010-2011 season)

I sorted the table by shots on goal per 60 minutes of 5v5 since there’s reason to believe that in the small sample of ice-time we’re using there’s a very large chance that percentages and luck affect goals and points numbers.

The clear indication is that Kesler and Higgins have something together. Perhaps if they were joined by a third, puck-driving player who play centre and let Kesler play the perimeter on the wing, they’d have even more success. I digress, however. Kesler has scored on 5.8% of his shots when playing with David Booth and 8.1% when playing with Alex Burrows. That makes a very big difference in the small sample, but if we’re assuming things even out in the long-run (Booth is a much better player than Vancouverites give him credit for) that’s a difference about two goals over 700 minutes. Not huge, but noteworthy.

I won’t look at Corsi stats with and without particular players since usage roles change a lot once players dip to the first or third line. What is worth noting is Kesler is 60.3% with Booth and 58.1% with Higgins, and if the Canucks are not going to pick up a certain Belaroussian free agent, re-unification of the American Express line could pay dividends if each player managed to stay healthy for once.

Burrows simply does not fit with Kesler on offence.


Yes, there is a defensive component to hockey. It is unfortunately very tough to measure defence. I mentioned above that basically the only time Kesler and Burrows played with each other was on the penalty kill. That suits our purposes, and we can see exactly how Kesler and Burrows fared in restricting shots on the penalty kill.

Why shots? Because Fear the Fin showed yesterday that it is impossible to predict goals on the powerplay, but you can still predict the amount of unblocked shots, or Fenwick Events, fired at the net. We’ll check that out in reverse and see how Canucks have done on the PK since the start of the Mike Gillis era:

Season Name TOI/GP Goals Against/60 Fen Against/60
2013 Chris Higgins 1.88 4.7 54.6
2009 Alex Burrows 2.77 5.8 54.9
2013 Jannik Hansen 2.06 3.1 58.3
2011 Tanner Glass 1.04 8.7 59.9
2012 Max Lapierre 1.13 5.2 60.3

I set the parameters at 1.00 minute of shorthanded time on ice per game between 2008-2009 and 2013. Small sample size did wonders for Chris Higgins and Jannik hansen this past season.

For our purposes though, we have 30 names on the list, and Ryan Kesler is not well-represented in the Top 5, coming in at 12th, 22nd, 23rd and 29th in the four seasons he’s represented. Burrows is 2nd, 10th, 14th, 18th and 20th. Again, it’s tough to measure quality of competition in these situations and can presumably assume that Kesler played in tougher situations than Burrows when they were separate, but Kesler never seems to have been the team’s primary option on the PK.

In 2013, he was hurt. In 2011 and 2012, he played fewer PK minutes than Manny Malhotra. In 2010, he played more PK minutes than any Canuck, but not when Ryan Johnson was playing in games.

It’s difficult to put together, but I think there’s some indication that Kesler and Burrows haven’t exactly been a reliable shutdown unit when together on the penalty kill, nor are they all-world scorers when playing together at 5-on-5. It may be interesting to see just how Tortorella uses all of his shiny new toys in October, but I think he’d be wise to keep Burrows and Kesler separate.

  • Mantastic

    In the first chart are you using total TOI or EV Strength TOI only? Because if Burrows and Kesler’s TOI together includes their time on the PK, which you stated is their primary deployment together, then of course we expect them to post low goals/points/shots/60 together…

  • Mantastic

    Wait, there it is below the table “sorted by 5v5″…

    /Shakes head, walks away muttering “though shalt not doubt Charron. Though shalt not doubt Charron”

  • Mantastic

    I still like the the idea of a Higgins/Kesler/Burrows line handling tough minutes so Sedins/Kassian and a line of Booth/Schroeder/Hansen can get some easier competition. Giving Schroeder the “Hodgson” treatment this season would be a wise move, since it’s pretty clear he doesn’t fit with the team going forward.

  • Mantastic

    Fact about AV and Burrows is that Burr seemed to be his utility guy. 1st line scorer, Penalty killer that played the point on the power play…sometimes and 3rd line defensive stopper. One thing about Burrows is that if he is given a role he will play it. With their speed and offensive skill Kesler and Burrows would do well together. Under AV’s constant line juggling mid game, they were just thrown together and told d”do something to jump start us”. Torts is a structured guy that will define roles and let the players do their jobs. AV.was wishy washy that way and the teams performance showed in bad penalties and sloppy turn overs. This team needs structure, so put each player in a role and let him perform.

    • Mantastic

      I remember also, but that was many many moons ago mon frere. Now the question is where do each of them fit in our team concept. Is Burrows a scoring first liner or two way second liner? Is Kesler better at center second line winger or 1st line winger? Finding the role that will make a player successful is a coaches job and the reason AV stayed too long. It seemed like he was always trying to fit square pegs in round holes. Kes and Burr have excelled beyond their 3 rd line days, but haven’t found their niche…. Hopefully this year.

      • I feel you, but I’m just saying, if I don’t ride a bicycle for a couple years, I still know how to do it. I’m just saying it hasn’t been done very much since then, and I’m not willing to rule it out now either.

        I’m not saying they should definitely be together though. I’m not that crazy.

        • Agreed, nothing can be ruled out. Lass may be a bust w the Twins and Burr is the answer. The biggest point about this offseason is that for a team that has a core that has played together a while, there are no real defined roles outside of the twins. AV ran a lose ship and juggled lines often and not always because of injuries. This is why I am optimistic about the coming year. Last year was a mess with the lockout FA and injuries, Torts will define roles and hold guys accountable, not just demote with out a reason. Take all the talent and put them in a role in which they will succeed. Still can’t believe Hason was on the top line…. Who does that!

  • im not justifying any one point here- but last season when vancouver played edmonton- a game where they combined for 3-4 pts and ebbett managed to net two goals, kesler and burrows looked fantastic together. taking into account the opposition of course. but still, they looked smart and savvy of eachother, and that was the highlight of that game. that’s what i remember, and hope to see

  • Personally, I would like to see the lines as 2A and 2B. Assuming the first line is Sedin, Sedin, Kassian (which I like). I would set up the next two lines as follows: Higgins, Kesler and Burrows. Kesler the gun, Higgins the setup and Burrows the digger. They have speed and some toughness and grit and would be responsible defensively. Booth, Santorelli and Hansen. Booth is a power forward who goes to the net and he had a very successful year when paired with Santorelli in Florida. Santorelli is a decent 2 way guy with speed and Hansen is the perfect speed guy with some grit who can contribute. If you then have a 4th line of size with Richardson, Lain and Weise or Sestito, you can do some banging. This gives the kids another year to progress. I also think that Kassian will do fine as long as he remembers his job – go to the net and keep your stick down and hit anything that goes near a Sedin in the corner. I would like to see a face rub tried if you then had to face Kassian’s ugly mug (sorry guy, but he ain’t pretty looking on the ice.)