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..