The Vancouver Canucks hired Jim Benning as General Manager in late May of 2014—meaning that the fifth year of his tenure has already come and gone. In this series of Five-Year Rewinds, CanucksArmy will be taking a look at some of Benning’s most notable transactions—with the added benefit of a half-decade worth of hindsight.
With the five-year anniversary of the Ryan Kesler trade coming up at the end of this month, we’ll be starting our retrospective tour with the move that sent him to the Anaheim Ducks. For those who need a refresher on the details, the official transaction was
2015 3rd Round Pick (Deven Sideroff, ANA)
2014 1st Round Pick (Jared McCann, VAN)
2014 3rd Round Pick (Keegan Iverson, NYR)
When looking at any hockey transaction, the context is often important. In these Five-Year Rewinds, the majority of the focus will be spent on the transactions themselves—and especially what happened after them—but it is still always worthwhile to briefly discuss the zeitgeist of each move, and especially so in the case of the Kesler trade.
Ryan Kesler demanded a trade from the Vancouver Canucks sometime during the 2013/14 season when Mike Gillis still helmed the team—and perhaps even earlier—and the newly-hired Benning was left in a difficult position. With a full No-Trade Clause, Kesler was in full control of his destination—and rumours at the time held that 2011’s Selke Trophy winner would only accept a deal to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks. When traded, Kesler had two years remaining on a contract that carried a $5 million cap hit.
Wow, McKenzie says the top three Kesler options seem to be Pittsburgh, Anaheim and no trade. Philly? No?
— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) March 5, 2014
Debate over just how many options Benning could have explored was difficult to parse at the time of the trade, and it’s even trickier to speculate five years later. Suffice it to say that this trade was not made under ordinary circumstances, and that Benning certainly wasn’t able to take advantage of a leaguewide trade market. In any case, he still might have come out on top in the exchange.
Using NHL.com’s handy stat-filtering tool, we’ll now take a look at how each component of the trade has performed since the transaction occurred—even if said performance happened with multiple other franchises, as is the case for Luca Sbisa.
It should be noted that neither Deven Sideroff or Keegan Iverson have played a single NHL game to date, so they can probably be considered a wash at this point. As such, their stats will not be included in this roundup—because they don’t exist! Sideroff spent the most recent season with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls, while Iverson is currently with the Manchester Monarchs in the ECHL.
Conventional wisdom holds that the team who acquires the best player in a transaction wins the trade—and that would make this deal seem like a victory for Anaheim at first blush. Of all the players, Kesler has put up the most points of any player—despite playing 34 fewer games than Bonino since the 2014/15 season began.
With that being said, the total numbers for the players involved in the trade since 2014/15 really don’t stack up in the Ducks’ favour.
|Vancouver Trade Totals||852||118||182||300||0.35|
|Anaheim Trade Totals||346||76||104||180||0.52|
As an individual, Kesler has still been more valuable—especially once his defensive contributions are factored in—than any other player involved in this transaction, and him having a higher points-per-game than the collective is indicative of that. Still, when it comes to total value, the trade definitely favours the Canucks—and that’s without factoring in the albatross contract Kesler signed with the Ducks.
Ryan Kesler’s Contract: A Bullet Dodged
Kesler’s contract looked bad when it was signed, and it can almost be presented without comment at this point and stand by itself. When Kesler’s injuries are considered, the outlook is even worse for the Ducks.
Anaheim chose to re-sign Kesler at the end of his first season with the Ducks—and only a couple weeks after he became eligible for an extension. At the time of signing, Kesler was less than two months away from his 32nd birthday—but the Ducks still chose to sign him for six years at an average cap hit of $6.875 million.
While Kesler’s health issues have certainly intensified since joining Anaheim, there were already signs that both his body and his play were deteriorating before he signed the deal—and even before leaving Vancouver. After three seasons in the 60-75 point range from 2008 to 2011, Kesler put up four consecutive seasons of sub-par offensive performance from 2011 to the time of his trade. In one of those seasons—2012/13—Kesler played just 17 games, and he missed chunks of time in each of the three seasons prior to the deal.
Of course, the contract only looks worse four seasons later. After solid campaigns in 2015/16 and 2016/17, Kesler’s health became an everyday issue—one that didn’t just keep him out of the lineup frequently, but greatly hampered his play whenever he did manage to hit the ice. In 2017/18, Kesler played just 44 games and only managed 14 points—but even that dwarfs his last year’s performance, in which he put up a measly eight points in 60 games.
The largest factor at play here is Kesler’s unruly hip—which has troubled him for years and finally “broke down” in 2018. But whereas an early Kesler retirement seemed all but inevitable last season, the latest scuttlebutt seems to be that Kesler is going to keep trying to resurrect his career until he’s medically unable to—and that means the Ducks will have to continue dealing with his cap hit. They cannot buy out his contract without incurring a multi-million penalty for six years—which means their options are severely limited.
Ryan Kesler still has fun playing hockey. But will his right hip force him to retire? Kesler, his family and the Ducks have an extensive offseason plan to determine if he can continue to play.
— The Athletic (@TheAthleticLA) April 9, 2019
Which brings us to the notion of a bullet dodged. Had Kesler not made his trade demand, and had the Vancouver Canucks chosen to retain him, it’s hard to imagine that they would not have signed Kesler to a similar contract to what he signed in Anaheim. After all, if Kesler had enough swing with his new organization to land such a deal, one can only imagine that he’d be able to pull similar numbers from the franchise he led to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
In other words, the Canucks are probably better off for simply having gotten rid of Ryan Kesler before he signed an extension—and would be even if they didn’t receive anything in return. The fact that they received three solid NHL players—whose total contributions outweigh Kesler’s own performance—is just gravy at this point.
Imagining the Canucks heading into the 2019/20 season with Ryan Kesler and Loui Eriksson taking up a cumulative $13 million in cap space is all that is necessary to declare this transaction a win for Jim Benning and the Canucks. It’s a classic case of addition by subtraction.
It should be mentioned that, for all that Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and Jared McCann have done since being traded for Kesler, they didn’t really do all that much for the Vancouver organization. Bonino won two cups and Sbisa went to the finals, but they did so with other franchises. Ultimately, the trio played a cumulative five seasons for the Canucks—and Sbisa himself accounts for three of them.
In fact, it could be argued that the greatest value that Benning received in this transaction was the gift of not having to re-sign Kesler. The fact that Bonino was traded for Brandon Sutter and McCann for Erik Gudbranson—each of who became cap-anchors of their own in Vancouver—takes a little bit of the shine off the trade, but each of their contracts is still miles better than Kesler’s, and Benning was at least able to convert Gudbranson into Tanner Pearson.
Let us also not forget that Sbisa was selected in the Expansion Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights—preventing the Canucks from having to give up a younger, more talented asset.
To be entirely fair to the Anaheim organization, it’s not as if they didn’t get anything out of the Kesler trade. With Kesler, the team twice made the Western Conference Finals—in 2014/15 and 2016/17. In each case—and especially in 2015 when he put up 13 points in 16 playoff games—Kesler played a major role in their run.
Still, the Ducks were unable to finish the job with Kesler on the roster—and now they’ve got to deal with him being on their books for three more seasons.
It remains open to debate whether the value received for Ryan Kesler at the time of the trade was fair—and there are compelling arguments on either side. When the deal is looked at retroactively, however, it becomes patently obvious that Jim Benning and Co. dodged a serious bullet by dealing Kesler before he was due for an extension—even if the whole thing was Kesler’s idea.
Perhaps it is best to label this one an “accidental win” and move on. Unfortunately, moving on from the Kesler trade is not a luxury afforded to the Anaheim Ducks.