My love-hate relationship with Ryan Kesler


With the Canucks season quickly turning into golfing season, it leaves many Canucks writers with few options of what to talk about. You either write about who/what was to blame for the bad season, or you write about lemon loaf recipes. 

Seeing as how Dimitri has a killer lemon loaf recipe queued up for later this week (it involves 2 tablespoons of the tears of Canucks fans and 1 cup of failed Stanley Cup aspirations), I was going to write a piece on how Roger Takahashi was to blame for the failed 2014 season. 

However, I figure I can save that Takahashi attack piece for the draft, and instead I want to use today to talk about Ryan Kesler. With Kesler’s future up in the air like that of a cliffhanger of a Spanish soap opera, it has made me reflect upon the time Ryan has spent in Vancouver.

There are three moments in my adult life where I can remember watching a player score, and reacting by pulling on the crest of my jersey repeatedly and running around like an idiot. One was Trevor Linden in Game 7 against Dallas in 2007, as this was my childhood hero showing up one more time for me. 

One was for Kyle Wellwood (yes, I have his jersey) when he scored in the playoffs against St. Louis, and everyone around me high fived me, because let’s face it, you kind of have to high five the one guy who owns a Kyle Wellwood jersey when he scores. 

And the third was when Ryan Kesler tied up the game against San Jose in the dying moments of Game 5 of the Western Finals, playing on one leg, and cementing one of the best playoff runs ever put on by a Vancouver Canuck. This finalized my full-on admiration of Ryan Kesler as a hockey player.

Of course, it didn’t start out this way. Initially it was hard to understand what kind of player Kesler was going to be, mostly because he has the back-story of a generic comic book character. Don’t believe me? Let’s check the list:

– Young man who burst onto the scene with a ton of untapped potential? Check.

– Had a nemesis he feuded with in his early days? RJ Umberger (Or Umberg-atron, if you want something more sinister): Check.

– Had people doubting his ability to become the super hero they thought he could be? Check.

– Has a tattoo ripping off another comic book hero but instead of that person’s initial it has his own? Double check.

– Had a heroic back-story where he learned how to focus his powers and use them for good and become even more powerful then ever? Check.. ok, so shooting 1000 pucks a day in your garage over a summer isn’t the sexiest story, but it still looms large in the Ryan Kesler lore that showed him turning from young kid with no hands into a 40 goal scorer.

– Had a showdown against an enemy and came out on top by absolutely destroying his opponent? Nashville says check. Then they have a brief cry.

Yes, Kesler has had quite an interesting ride in Vancouver, made all the more intriguing because he burst onto the scene being labelled as “NHL ready” (which meant he could skate fast and would back check) but was labelled as a 3rd line center type. 

Mostly because if you watched early Ryan Kesler, he played a lot like Mason Raymond might have played like, had Mason Raymond ever attempted to skate straight up the middle and into the slot. Kesler excelled at skating super fast only to lose the puck and fall to the ice.

Reading forums back in those days was always an adventure, because Ryan Kesler was such a hot topic of conversation. Some people were so convinced that he had a terrible shot that couldn’t break a pane of glass (assuming he could manage to hit the glass) that many became frustrated with his play. As we have seen with other fast players, there is just something about a fast player with bad hands that makes it really easy to demonize them.

It’s almost as if we’re appalled at the idea that somebody so fast could never learn how to shoot properly, as if it was a waste of their talent and our time. Slow and have no shot? Well that guy’s a grinder. But fast and no shot? God damn it man, you’re the worst player ever!

That’s what made it so fun when Ryan Kesler had his “Summer of Change”, or his went through his “40 goal scorer puberty”, and turned himself into a bona fide NHL goal scorer. He became the poster boy for a player dedicating himself to his craft and managing to exceed expectations, giving hope to all Canucks fans that players like Horvat or Gaunce can shatter that same 3rd line potential ceiling.

This all reached it’s zenith when Kesler put on one of the greatest playoffs I have seen from a player  in 2011 (game seven against Chicago from Ryan Kesler is just out of this world to watch, and the Nashville series, well, it’s not often you see a player bend a team over a barrel all by himself), only to just fall short of winning the Stanley Cup after his body let him down.

And therein lies the love/hate relationship I have with Ryan Kesler. For all the amazing games I have seen from him, for all of the amazing moments he has had on the ice, his style of play can still be so frustrating to watch.

For instance, how many times have we seen Ryan Kesler attempt to race the puck down the ice, pull up at the blue line, and fire a wrister that goes high and wide? 

How many times have we seen Ryan Kesler take the puck, speed down the ice, attempt to beat four guys at once, only to lose the puck? 

How many times have we seen Ryan Kesler go all out and play way too hard in some instances where it probably wasn’t needed?

How many times have we seen the diving from Kesler, which stands in stark contrast to the balls out way he can play at times?

Ryan Kesler, when he is on, can be the best player on the ice. I still remember against San Jose in game two of the playoffs last year, how Kesler basically attempted to win the game all by himself (and almost did). 

The problem is when he isn’t scoring, the way he plays becomes a glaring eye sore. Nothing is worse than a Ryan Kesler bombing the puck over the net repeatedly, attempting to turn into the one man show. There is a reason Vigneault openly questioned if Kesler was utilizing his linemates enough. There is a reason why people wonder if there is anyone the Canucks can find to play with him. Kesler has had extreme success with the one man show in the past, and when things get rough, Kesler often reverts to that. When it doesn’t work, it leaves you screaming at your TV.

Despite all of that, though, I am still torn on what the Canucks should do with Ryan Kesler. I know I can often get carried away with playoff performances, and I have to look at a player as a whole instead of romanticizing one run. That being said, if Kesler is still open to staying in Vancouver, I would lean towards keeping him. Putting his 2011 season aside, if the Canucks truly believe they can re-tool instead of rebuild, that 1-2 punch of Hank and Kes is going to be what gets them back in the playoffs.

Kesler, despite his one man show routine, is a very good hockey player, and would not be easily replaced. If you add in the value of the offers supposedly being put up by other GMs at the trade deadline, if Kesler gets dealt for a similar type package at the draft, I don’t know how the Canucks can still call it a re-tool instead of a re-build.

The Canucks center depth is in a very precarious situation, as none of the current centers in the organization will be 2nd line ready in the next couple of years, barring a miracle. Hoping the free agency will help this situation seems like insanity more than anything, as the free agent market is not only the place where bad deals that haunt a franchise are made (hey Clarkson, what’s up buddy!) but Gillis has never dipped his toes into that pool very deep anyhow, save for Mats Sundin, which felt more like an instance where Gillis wanted to show how “bold” he was, more than anything else

I know some people want Kesler out of here (due to his play, due to his personality, due to the part his trade could play in a potential rebuild), and I can see some merit in trading him. I just don’t think the Canucks will get anything near to the value that he brings to the team. The only way you trade Kesler is if you get a viable 2nd line center in return (or a potential soon to be 2nd line center) and that doesn’t seem to be a commodity that is tossed around the NHL very much these days. 

So in the end, I hope the Canucks manage to keep Kesler happy and keep him in town. I know I will scream at him for ignoring an open team mate just so he can shoot high and wide, and I know I will scream at him for blocking a shot in pre-season with a recently repaired limb. I just feel that he is a great player on a great contract, and if the Canucks do turn this around next season, Kesler will most likely play a huge part in it.

Of course, all of this is moot if Kesler still demands to be traded. In that case, I always knew Kesler was a dick..

  • “Of course, all of this is moot if Kesler still demands to be traded. In that case, I always knew Kesler was a dick..”

    I think you captured the Vancouver fanbase pretty well here.

    If the Canucks were closer to the top of the win curve, yes, absolutely keep Kesler and try to make a run in 2014-2015.

    But as of now, the Canucks would need to find a serviceable goaltender such as Halak or Hiller simply for the priveledge of battling for a wildcard spot.

    Along with raises to guys like Tanev, Kassian & maybe Santorelli, there would not be much flexibility to upgrade any other part of the roster.

    And that would also require one of the current playoff teams to falter next season.

    And teams like Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton & Nashville can’t improve too much next year even though their chances of improvement are as good or better than Vancouver’s considering the age of their respective cores.

    Even though the Canucks will probably lose on a Kesler trade, what exactly is the endgame of keeping him?

    • Yeah, if management wants to go full rebuild (or is forced to due to inadequacies in the roster and their inability to fix them next year) then yeah, trading Kesler and getting a return that isn’t that great would be fine, since as you said, watching his value deteriorate on a re-building team probably isn’t the best thing.

      A lot of it depends on how well the Canucks think the team can bounce back, and how well they think they can patch up the team.

  • I think Kes is one of the heart and soul guys here and still performs at a very high level. I think you have to deal him over the summer. We have few assets other teams covet and he’s one.

    I don’t think Kes has to bring back anything specific. He can return an almost stud player in another position (wing) with another blue chip prospect (maybe a D man). I am sure there will be some options out there. If you can get a potential Iginla or something of that potential then why not make a deal. Maybe a package to Detroit for Mantha and Gus Nyqvist. Use other assets to land a centre. Maybe deal Tanev for Ryan O’Riley; ROR is a very good, young player and is likely your #2 (maybe #1) centre of the future and right now.

    Kes is also getting older. He has a lot of hard miles on him and will not be the same player in a few years. So, deal him while he is in his prime and we can get something for him.

    • Mantastic

      Tanev will never net you ROR or someplayer like ROR. what are you smoking?

      and Kesler for Mantha + Nyquist (46 pts in 50 something games)? that’s just mental

      • Mantastic

        I guess the whole reading thing is new. So, I did mention a package including Kes for Mantha and Gus. Wings are a team that will be good for a while and Kes will be as well. Plus, the contract is a huge bargain so the Wings would benefit from that as well. Also, Kes brings valuable playoff experience.

        Tanev may get you ROR. I can’t see that being so outlandish especially when you consider Colorado won’t be able to keep all of those superstar forwards in the near future. I can see Tanev and a pick getting you ROR. Let’s agree to disagree.

        • Mantastic

          so your justification for trading ROR for peanuts is because they will be paying too much for great talent? FYI there is no such thing as paying too much for GREAT talent. Mac, Duchene, Landeskog and ROR, that’s 4 players they easily have room for, who else are they going to pay big money to? let’s agree you are horribly under valuing ROR.

          • Mantastic

            “let’s agree you are horribly under valuing ROR.”

            Actually the real issue is that he is overvaluing the players that happen to play on the team for which he cheers…

  • argoleas

    Canucks have got to get rid of players that do not want to stay here. The “team first” philosophy has to be applied here. You cannot succeed with players that do not have that team first mentality. Also, having another trade saga in this hockey-crazed city would be another huge headache.

    Yes… Losing Kesler would be a HUGE loss. But you got to do what is best for the team in the long run. Too many Canucks “fans” want wins now when we gotta be realistic that it takes a few years to build a winning team and/or rectify the mistakes that Canucks mgmt has done with the team by drafting crap players and their inability to develop young players(not only pointing at Mike Gillis here.. its a shared blame at scouting staff, Burke, etc).

    I rather have a team of hard-working players that play for each other than have a mixture of primadonnas and some team-first guys… This confuses the team’s identity for the young guys to follow from…. If you are Zack Kassian, you’re like “Hey.. Henrik is a classy guy… oh but wait, Kesler’s a fun guy to party with.”… the team as it stands right now, is offering two schools of thought to follow.

    Also, getting rid of Kesler opens up a spot… creates competition (albeit crap competition at the moment — with the likes of Matthias, Richardson, Schroeder). But Canucks could rectify in the short-term by adding a few centres if they could: (a) Sobotka from STL (he’s good at faceoffs too) and/or (b) Steve Ott (if we buy out Booth). IF we sign these guys, it will allow the Canucks to slot young centres (i.e. Horvat or Gaunce or Cassels or Fox) with two options: (1) placing them on the wing without throwing them in the fire to try and jostle with opposing NHL-ready centres too and (2) allowing them to grow under Travis Green in Utica — following the DET way of guys growing at Grand Rapids (i.e. Nyquist, Franzen, Helm, etc).

    • Yeah, there might always be behind the scenes stuff we’re not privy to. If Kesler is pulling a prima donna routine, causing havoc behind the scenes, or still has his heart set on leaving, then boot the guy out of town and take your loss on the trade. You don’t want people like that around the team.

      I also, for the record, have no problem if the Canucks try and re-build, but if they really want to just “re-tool” then I would hope they would do everything they can to keep Kesler, assuming Kesler isn’t demanding an out.

      • But I don’t know how much stock to put in all of the prima-donna nonsense. If someone really is being a dick on the ice or in the locker room, I think it’s relatively easy to spot. Kesler can be arrogant but I see no evidence of him not pulling his weight (well maybe slowing down during tankathon 2014) or other players here hating him any more than they would elsewhere.

        At the end of the day these are professionals — some are professional jerks, others seem like good guys. But that’s all immaterial to what they produce on the ice. I never get the standards we hold some of these guys to. Isn’t one of the things that we love about Kesler his absolute determination to win? Professional athletes have such a small window to be at the top of their sport and even less so to be on a competitive team for the most part — is it a prima donna act if Kesler looks at the yawning abyss of the next 3-4 years in Canuckville and decides he’d rather ply his trade elsewhere? I can’t really blame him for that. Or Luongo deciding he’d rather have the contradiction of being THE GUY in a decidedly unhockey town than HERO/GOAT/ANTIHERO here, even if it means he’s going to be on a team that loses a thousand games now.

        What I really worry about is that we really will have the “retool” with Gillis and Co. Because I think they are going to look at this and say injuries blah blah puck luck blah blah reffing blah blah and not deal with the terrible structural problems that afflict us (poor drafting, little system depth, bad fit between coach and team, limited contract space to spend for improvement). Sorry, not afflict us — that this management team has inflicted ON us.

        • Mantastic

          I couldn’t agree more with the prima-donna stuff.

          Lack seems like a very nice guy.

          But if the goal is to win, I’d much prefer Luongo in his prime hurling obscenities at his defenseman.

          Gillis suggested he believes Lack is a Calder candidate.

          I didn’t know being a backup goalie merited an award.

          He also seemed to suggest that he’s going back to his “roots”.

          You know what that means. It’s back to “skill” in the draft.

          Does that mean goodbye to Kassian, Horvat and co while trying to reacquire Hodgson, Grabner, Raymond & KConn?

          Stay tuned…

          • Mantastic

            Oh god I just heard the 1040 interview with Gillis. So…now it’s all Tortorella’s fault for not playing the right system? I think that’s certainly part of the problem. But not having any depth available when we did have the rash of injuries that we did? That’s on the owner and coach?

            Maybe throwing the middle finger at Aquilini and Tortorella can get Gillis canned? Apparently for Gillis “retooling” or “getting back to roots” is rearranging deck chairs…

            I think Lack is a decent goalie but this usage of him is idiotic. We go from bringing him up relatively slowly to throwing him to the wolves because apparently there are no other goalies available to play, ever.

          • argoleas

            I think we may be overassuming on Lack here. Perhaps the plan is to exactly give him max experience, which includes many tough games, and just maybe everyone is on board with that. Damn, everyone is talking like Lack is made of glass.

    • Mantastic

      the only way you can develop like Detroit is by having great depth for years to begin with, otherwise you become Edmonton or Florida, playing rookies out of their depth because there is no one else to play.

      The Canucks, from where they stand at the moment, have absolutely garbage depth, so you will have no choice but to play a lot of rookies and develop them on the fly with no sheltering, which is less than ideal. so that means this year, you have to sign a bunch of stop gap players for 2-3 years as prospects slowly develop during their entire ELC in the minors and hope to hit home runs with Horvat, Guance, Hunter and whoever else they draft this year, which is really wishful thinking.

      • Mantastic

        I agree with your statement of “playing rookies out of their depth”… and yes. EDM and FLA are best examples of that.

        There are also stories like CGY (who are trending upwards — yes I said it.. our hated rivals CGY is looking good in the future). Now, I am not telling the Canucks to follow the Flames model (hell NO!)… but we can learn one good aspect and that is their TEAM-FIRST philosophy.

        Their team on paper is absolute crap at the beginning of the season but they fight for each other. Every game, they don’t give an inch of the ice without fighting for it. If Canucks could combine that tenacity with their skill, we will do well and maybe then, will we be able to intimidate and get more possession of the puck when we play those three Cali teams that always give us trouble.

        In defence of Gillis, he is actually pretty good at finding depth players (ex. Santorelli, Stanton, Diaz, Weise, Lapierre, Higgins). He also added Kellan Lain, Tanev from the NCAA… and now Zalewski (dont know much about him). So the outlook is a bit better than what people say it is… OR… maybe i am prejudiced by the overhyped propaganda of social media or who rates almost all prospects as if they are the next big thing.. hahaha.

        Cassels, Grenier and Hutton all surprised many this year in their respective levels… just saying… maybe Gillis isnt as bad as Tony ‘the Hater’ Gallagher claims…

  • Mantastic


    Would you be opposed to trading Ryan Kesler for PIT’s 1st rd pick + Derick Pouliot?

    This offer is different from PIT’s previous offer… which lacks a 2nd line centre (that everybody wants in return for Kesler) and a serviceable D-man package. Brandon Sutter is a 3rd line centre and I think Matthias is better than him actually… Simon Despres or whoever PIT was offering is another mediocre D-man who’s potential matches the likes of a Stanton or Yannick weber…

    If “losing” out on a deal and not getting enough for a Kesler, you get a Derick Pouliot… it could pay huge dividends with a guy that can man the PP instead of Dan Hamhuis on that PP1 unit… (no knock on Hamhuis but he is better suited for defensive responsibilities)which matters in the long run as the Sedins get older and need some younger folks to share the PP burden.

    I personally think with the bevy of young C prospects that we have (i.e. Horvat, Gaunce, Cassels, Fox, Lain, even Labate..) and the realities of the NHL cap constraints, the Canucks have to take risks by giving their youth some more ice time and getting rid of guys that are locked up in the team for far too long…

    And i agree with some of the comments previously about how Kesler should be traded than to rot in a “rebuilding” team.. Sell high on Kesler now is a good business decision (albeit if a late 1st rd pick from PIT and Pouliot maybe less dividends that what is sought from Gillis).

      • Mantastic

        Because Kesler is a proven 2nd line centre who also scored 40 goals in a season and can shut down opposing centres (i.e. Toews)….. Pouliot is just a prospect (albeit a blue chip prospect).

        Last time I checked… crazier things have been done in the NHL. Some would even argue Kesler for a blue-chip prospect and late 1st round pick is a steal for PIT.

        Kesler is our best player (according to stats and conventional wisdom). I think that can command a Pouliot and a late first rd pick no problem.

    • Mantastic

      personally I never liked Pouliot, he doesn’t play D very well but he is a great skater and puck handler (better version of kconn, but i don’t know by how much). but i do believe that Kesler needs to be traded while his value is high and un-injured.

      like what NM00 says, you should be drafting/acquiring players with the ceilings of 1st liners/top pairing, because you hope they will at least develop into serviceable NHLers.

  • Here’s a question that I don’t know the answer to:

    The Canucks will probably have a pick around 10th – maybe as high as 5th if they tank well and get lucky. Lets say they end up with the 9th overall pick. Does Kesler plus a top-ten pick have enough value to pry a top-3 pick away from Buffalo/Edmonton/Florida?

    I’d like to see Kesler stay, but if he can be packaged up in return for Reinhart, I’d make that move in a heartbeat. The team needs a future 1C. Is that realistic, though, or would it take more to pry a top-3 pick away from a bottom feeder?

    I’m thinking Edmonton might be interested in such a package – Buffalo’s obviously going to be bad for years, but MacTavish needs his team to start winning games, and he needs to bring in a guy who shows the kids how to compete and play elite two-way hockey. Nearly-30 Kesler on his own obviously isn’t going to bring back the #1 or #2 overall pick, but will Kesler + a top ten pick do it?

    • argoleas

      I’m sure that Kesler will have veto power over his destination. I do not see him moving to a team that is rebuilding. Perhaps a three-way trade may work, but a direct trade to a Buffalo will not happen.

      • No, I was suggesting that Buffalo probably wouldn’t be interested anyway as they’re not in “win now” mode like Edmonton is.

        I’m of the opinion that you ought to lose your veto power when you request a trade.

        My question wasn’t really “will Kes get traded to a bottom feeder” but “Is Kesler + a 7th-12th pick worth a top-3 pick?”

        If you’re a team trying to get back into the playoffs in the near future, I think it probably is. If you’re planning for a long rebuild (hi Buffalo) it’s probably not. I’m no expert though and I’m curious what other people think.