When murmurs of a possible Ryan Kesler trade first surfaced on the internet, Canucks fans were understandably somewhat pensive. After all, here was a two-time 70-point scorer who had eclipsed 40 goals not too long ago, won a Selke trophy, and was a special teams monster, and Vancouver was going to trade him. Those guys just don’t come around all that often, so even though Ryan Kesler was no longer RYAN KESLER, it still seemed imperative that Vancouver got an A-grade prospect in return.
Instead, Kesler used his NTC to force a trade to Anaheim, where Jim Benning was unable to acquire any particularly young assets aside from the 24th overall pick, spent on a very-good-but-not-great prospect in Jared McCann. What Benning was instead able to acquire was a cheap, cost-controlled 26-year old centre who scored 22 goals last season, and would have finished 2nd on the Canucks in both goals and points in Nick Bonino. Those guys also just don’t come around all that often, so if that’s what Nick Bonino is going to be, Vancouver has themselves a valuable asset.
But that’s the big question here: what exactly is Nick Bonino?
Whenever you see a GF% spike so far above any possession measurement, the first thing that should jump out at you is the phrase “unsustainable PDO!” And sure enough, Nick Bonino saw an astronomically high PDO last year in Anaheim. His team scored on 9.3% of their shots on goal, while the goalies behind him stopped 93.4% of the shots fired their way. Barring Bonino having found the mythic fountain of sustainable shot quality creation and prevention, he almost certainly will not outscore his opponents at 5v5 to the degree he did last season.
What’s also problematic is that Bonino’s personal shooting percentage was over 14% at 5-on-5, meaning that his individual goal scoring is due for a drop. Not only that, but 14% of Bonino’s goals came at 5-on-3. If preseason games are to be believed, he isn’t likely to get that chance this year with the Sedins, Radim Vrbata, and Linden Vey seeing the bulk of top unit reps.
There’s also the matter that with the exception of Bryan Allen, Bonino’s most common teammates did better without him on the ice than with him. Our friend MoneyPuck took a stab earlier in September to disentangle Bonino’s performance from his teammates and came to the conclusion that he was being dragged down by Kyle Palmieri and Matt Beleskey. While this likely isn’t wrong, it may not be entirely right either. If it were Bonino’s wingers that were the anchors, we wouldn’t expect to see them break even from a possession standpoint without Bonino after performing so poorly with him. WOWYs seem to tell us that Bonino was a bit of a dead weight himself that broke 50% Corsi when either playing with Patrick Maroon and Teemu Selanne (who Bruce Boudreau sheltered the hell out of), or a known play-driver.
*Need help understanding some of these fancy stats, click here.
Unlike many Canucks, Nick Bonino’s season last year can best be described as “very fortunate,” and it’s safe to assume that he isn’t likely to repeat his performance with the Canucks. Barring some unforeseen upswing in his possession numbers, Bonino projects to be a serviceable depth forward, and unfortunately not much more than that.
The Canucks’ biggest problem last season is that they spent much of the year with a gaping hole at C behind their #1 guy. To address this, they went out and traded away the only guy in their organization that had been a good #2 NHL centre at any point during his career for a package of stuff to hopefully get better in the future. It’s obvious that there’s no sure thing at C behind Henrik Sedin, and Nick Bonino’s addition doesn’t change this, despite what Canucks brass seems to believe, at least publicly.
With all this being said, Nick Bonino is still a fine addition to the roster, and with 3 years left on a contract that pays him just $267k more than Derek Dorsett per season, Bonino has the potential to be a great value player even in a 3C role, perhaps playing with traditionally solid possession players like Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen. He would likely be an upgrade on Brad Richardson at even strength, who was given that role last year, even though he wasn’t as effective as Richardson was on the penalty kill.
Bonino will likely get every opportunity to replace Ryan Kesler directly on the second line, but who he plays with is going to be a question all year. Maybe he finds chemistry with Zack Kassian and Alex Burrows. Maybe Radim Vrbata comes down from line 1 and forms a secondary scoring unit with Bonino and Chris Higgins. Maybe Linden Vey shifts Bonino over to the wing and Jannik Hansen becomes the 3rd guy on that line – who knows. Based on his output in Anaheim, however, betting that Bonino is more than a stopgap solution at 2C does not seem like a safe proposition.