The first step of the “retooling” job that Jim Benning inherited with this roster involved trading away locker-room malcontent Ryan Kesler. The move was bound to clear up cap space necessary to not only keep their own RFAs like Chris Tanev and Zack Kassian around, but also dip into the free agent pool.
The fact that Kesler had essentially given the Canucks a list of one and a half teams he’d waive his no-trade clause for allowed Canucks fans and media to preemptively temper their expectations on the prospective return. Then the inevitable happened.
Ryan Kesler was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and the 24th overall pick in this year’s draft. You figure that the Bonino component of the package would be the centerpiece in the eyes of the Canucks, given that he’s currently viewed as the favourite to fill the spot the guy he was traded for successfully occupied for years prior.
Is Nick Bonino really a capable 2nd line center option, though?
Bonino vs. the League
Depth down the middle wasn’t necessarily the Ducks’ strong suit last season. Beyond Ryan Getzlaf, there wasn’t much there; in fact by the looks of it they used a committee of sorts to fill in the gaps. When fully healthy they had 5 natural centers for 3 slots, which meant that somebody was being moved to the wing. That designation was given to Nick Bonino on occasion, but based 5v5 usage, Bonino was the most readily used of that aforementioned committee:
|5v5 TOI/60||QoC||Rel Corsi||Zone Start %|
The Ducks were a divisive subject for the second straight season really, because their underlying numbers didn’t exactly match up with the success they were having as a team. It’s hard to quibble with the ultimate results – they came within just one game of beating the Kings and moving on to the Western Conference Final – but their unsustainable percentages are certainly a red flag.
They had a league high PDO of 103.4, in 5v5 Score Close situations, which was in large part propping up what was otherwise a largely uninspiring possession rate. Of the many Ducks forwards that benefited from this wave of favourable percentages, Bonino was sixth in forwards that played at least 40-games, with a PDO of 103. It doesn’t make his career highs last season necessarily a wash, but it is cause for concern. As is Bonino’s individual 13.8 shooting percentage.
Looking at Bonino in a bubble though isn’t overly enlightening. I can crunch his numbers (or at least try) for days on end, but without comparable players with which to gauge what a second line center is in the NHL should produce like, it will yield incomplete results.
The above chart essentially attempts to put into perspective the deployment and usage of every second line center from last season. Generally speaking, I judged which center was their respective team’s second by checking out 5v5 ice-time and tapping into my memory of lineups. Sometimes common sense needed to be applied, as players like Patrick Marleau and Kyle Palmieri (for example) were listed as centers on ExtraSkater.com. It’s far from a perfect methodology, but hey, it’s the best I got.
If you hadn’t noticed in the first table posted in this article that Bonino played some pretty cushy minutes, maybe this one will do the trick. And if you’re not overly well-versed in this sort of graph, the lower-right quadrant would indicate easier minutes; the top-left, the harder minutes.
I wanted to take a look at where Bonino’s production further, in terms of sheer rate stats, ranked against some of his peers. (I used rate stats so that I might negate the ice-time discrepancies between these players).
That single red diamond shaped dot in the middle of that graph is Nick Bonino. As you can see, Bonino’s point and shot production actually rank him in the top-half of my collection of second-line centers.
What the available data makes perfectly clear is that Bonino can succeed, if put into a sheltered role, much like he did last season. It’s probably unreasonable to expect Bonino to hit 49-points again though, solely because of the low likelihood of him being able to match those same percentages once again. If he’s a 22-goal scoring forward with a shooting percentage at close to 14, what happens when that shooting percentage regresses down closer to, say, 10%?
As sheltered as Bonino was last season, it is also worth pointing out that his QoT was actually worse than his QoC, 27.8 to 27.3. Could Bonino keep up the level of production he achieved last season with better linemates? It’s possible. My reason for this doubt is that Bonino’s two primarily linemates, Matt Beleskey and Kyle Palmieri, were actually weighed down by Bonino in the possession game.
So What is Bonino?
From what I can gather, it seems to me that Bonino is something of a tweener; too good to play on the third line, hardly good enough to anchor the second. Bonino’s best season was a 49-point campaign and was accompanied by all the good bounces a player can handle. I have a hard time believing things can go that well for him again, anywhere.
But, then again, I would be lying if I said I had seen much of Bonino. Other than the Ducks recent matchups against the Canucks, I don’t have a wealth of time spent watching Bonino play. So, I asked the twitter handle known as “Puq“, of Puq Magazine, what he thought of Bonino. He didn’t disappoint:
I’m not entirely sure whether I can call him a Kesler-lite or not, but that seems to be the case. Bonino was a peculiar case for the Ducks; he wasn’t the best second-line center, but when absent from that spot it was noticeably worse. Bonino doesn’t drive play very well, but he more than makes up for that with his versatility. He’s not going to challenge for scoring titles, but last year he proved that with opportunity and luck, he can hold his own. Bonino was slid up and down the lineup last season, but never missed a beat, no matter the linemates. I wouldn’t expect 50-points out of him, but at $1.9M, Bonino provides great value.
I can’t be the only one who finds that description eerily similar to that of the recently-departed Mike Santorelli, right?
Another wrinkle to Bonino’s game, that gives him added value, is his ability to play both sides of special teams. Last year the Ducks had only one player with more power play goals than Nick Bonino and that was Corey Perry; Bonino had seven to Perry’s eight. To shine light on just how valuable Bonino was to the Ducks special teams, I’d like to point out that he was on the ice for nearly 50% of the team’s power play ice time and nearly a third of their short-handed ice time.
In a perfect world, the Canucks can ice a team with Nick Bonino centering their third line. But at this point they’ve got to make due with what they have, and that is looking more and more like a need for Bonino to fill the role in the lineup that Ryan Kesler left behind. Perhaps on a team that is fully committed to a rebuild – with little-to-no expectations – Bonino could hold down that role. But for a team with delusions of playoff contention, it seems like a bit of a stretch. One can only hope he proves me wrong.