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Photo Credit: Foxsports.com

The Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind: Dodging The Ryan Kesler Bullet

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

To Anaheim:

Ryan Kesler

2015 3rd Round Pick (Deven Sideroff, ANA)

 

To Vancouver:

Nick Bonino

Luca Sbisa

2014 1st Round Pick (Jared McCann, VAN)

2014 3rd Round Pick (Keegan Iverson, NYR)

 

Context

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.

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.

Five-Year Statline

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.

From NHL.com

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.

Games Goals Assists Totals PPG
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

From CapFriendly.com

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.

From NHL.com

 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.

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.

Future Considerations 

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.

Conclusion

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.

  • Hockey Bunker

    Considering Benning had a gun to his head what he pulled off was remarkable. Got rid of a good player who was becoming an expensive locker room cancer and got a decent return.

    • J-Canuck

      I always said if the Ducks don’t win a cup with Kesler then the Canucks win the trade. I still believe that and now they are saddled with a broken down center eating cap room! Golf clap

  • Gino über alles

    Think of how legendary this trade would have been if they’d drafted Pastrnak instead of McCann, or asked for Vatanen instead of Sbisa. Either way this deal had to be done at the time merely because the team was getting stale with Kesler there, nevermind because he wanted to leave as well. Apparently the rumour was that if Gillis had been given permission to trade before the TDL and not blocked by Aquillini then Anaheim was offering both their 1st round picks that year, which would have been even better.

    RIP Kesler, he certainly was fantastic when he wanted to be for us.

    • J-Canuck

      I get what you are saying but GMJB had an ultimatum. Ducks or bust!
      Let’s do the reverse, Canucks are an up and coming team and say the breadman declares to Columbus, Vancouver.
      Columbus GM says, Elias. GMJB “NO”
      Columbus GM says Brock. GMJB “NO”…. etc etc…
      Until you get to possibly Jake with Troy or draft picks!
      Ducks aren’t going to bid themselves up!
      But Ducks and Kess didn’t win a Cup!
      I do not like the Ducks because they made a mockery of hockey and Kess showed less than class.

  • Spiel

    Benning did not receive value for Kesler.
    Sbisa and Bonino were the wrong choices for players from Anaheim. The Ducks at the time were loaded in their organization: Vatanen, Lindholm, Manson, Theodore as D prospects. Rackell, Silverberg, Smith-Pelley, Palmieri up front. We ended up with Bonino and Sbisa. Should have been a better return out of Anaheim’s depth of prospects and young players at the time.

    • Silverback

      Wow, I didn’t realize Vatanen, Lindholm, Manson, Theodore, Rackell, Silverberg, Smith-Pelley, or Palmieri were offered for trade for Kesler…or were they? You sure? Hindsight being 20/20, it doesn’t take a genius to make the right decision after the fact.

    • J-Canuck

      He was told, I will go to this team only!
      Have you ever negotiated anything in your life? If you go to a hockey game wifey, what?
      Two dinners and a Broadway show…
      Ummmm

  • Goon

    I think the original trade was perfectly reasonable, especially given the constraints placed on Benning. The team got a solid middle-six centre, a first round draft pick, and a young defenseman viewed as having high upside in the deal.

    The problem with Benning is that it’s always one step forward, two steps back. He made a solid pick with that 1st rounder in Jared McCann, then pissed him away in a terrible trade. He acquired a solid middle-six centre in Bonino, then traded him away (plus and moved down at the draft) to acquire a worse player in Sutter. And he failed to recognize Sbisa’s shortcomings while he still had trade value, and ended up losing him at the draft for nothing.

    The initial trade was solid, but Benning managed to turn that solid return into a mediocre, oft-injured 3rd line centre and not much else.

    • TD

      I think the Canucks ousting by Calgary in 6 spelled the end of Bonino. The Flames were more physical and Bonino had the unfortunate circumstance to be compared to Kesler, who was a beast in the playoffs. Bonino had 3 points in the 6 games, but was underwhelming in his overall play compared to Kes.

        • TD

          I’m not saying it was right or wrong to judge Bonino after those playoffs, but the Canucks as a team were not great and obviously needed to change. Regarding Pittsburg, Bonino got to play with Kessler on the third line behind Crosby and Malkin. That’s a much better role for him than second line on a much weaker Canucks team.

        • canuckfan

          I do not believe Bonino was just judged on that series he was not good the last half of the season and was likely in a position over his head. Sutter has been injured every season I believe since becoming a Canuck but has given the team a good shutdown center and penalty killer, but has not been in the lineup. We are going to see a big turnover this summer adding a winger for Brock and Petey, and another winger for Bo plus another defender or two. Biggest moves will be moving on from players who helped fill a spot but nothing more as the Canucks get more depth those players will be gone with no return, as no other team sees them as worthy of giving anything up. So a lot of the players needing a new contract will either have to take less or just move on signing for less somewhere else. The Eriksson contract will be moved getting some much needed skate laces in return, won’t seem like much but not taking on another bad contract for a player or hasn’t lived up to their contract is more of the reward. I want the Canucks to keep him because he does fill a role but the fans have been relentless in their attack which is not healthy for his family to hear everyday as likely his kids hear about this at school.

          • Goon

            You mean like Edler and Tanev, who remain the most important defencemen on the team despite the fact that we’re entering Benning’s sixth season at the helm?

            Of like Hamhuis, who continues to be a solid NHL contributor years after Benning failed to either trade him OR re-sign him?

            Or do you mean Jason Garrison, who Benning had no trouble trading at all, and then turned the pick he got into magic beans?

            Or do you mean Kevin Bieksa, who like Garrison Benning had no issue trading, but then immediately pissed away the pick he received?

            I’m confused about which of these Geriatric Club Members you’re referring to.

        • Goon

          Bonino went on to score 18 points in 24 playoff games and lift the cup the following year, while Sutter has had 0 points in 0 playoff games since.

          Managers should judge players on their complete body of work and make reasonable projections about how they’ll perform in the future. Benning failed spectacularly in this regard when assessing Bonino and Sutter.

          • Bud Poile

            Fortunately for your Captain Hindsight the Bonino went for a ride with Crosby and Malkin in their prime instead of the Sedins in their 30’s.
            It’s not even cherry season and you have picker’s diarrhea.

          • Bud Poile

            Fortunately for your Captain Hindsight theory Bonino went for a ride with Crosby and Malkin in their prime instead of the Sedins in their 30’s.
            It’s not even cherry season and you have picker’s diarrhea.

    • TheRealPB

      To be fair, McCann did nothing with Florida either. But you’re right, he gave up two players in McCann and Bonino who are both objectively superior to Sutter (certainly Bonino as a decent third line C which Sutter has not yet shown he can be).

      • Bud Poile

        Since centers are relied upon for face offs it would be more helpful if you incorporate those stats in in your next line of thought regarding Sutter being a ‘fifth line center’.

        • Freud

          Octogenarians quote face-off percentage. That’s all they know.

          Imagine how bad Sutter has to be to win all those face-offs and then post a possession number that puts him in the bottom 1% of the league.

    • bobdaley44

      I’d take Sutter over Bonino any day. All the Sutter hate gets tired. Jared Mcann wasn’t well liked in the room and has done nothing. Twenty two years old on his third team. Sure pissed that away. Rather have Pearson. Bigger, tougher, more character and far better goal scorer.

  • Green Bastard

    Meh – the whole fiasco turned out to be a wash, but McCann and Bonino have turned into quality players for other teams.

    Still want Kes in the ROH and his number retired though – there isn’t a true Canucks fan here who didn’t love what this guy brought to the table for us his whole time here.

    Old 17 – Canucks legend. Warrior, like me lol.

      • Goon

        What, like in 2017 where Sutter played 81 games, finished with a -18 even strength goal differential, a -20+/-, terrible puck possession numbers, and the team had one of its worst seasons in franchise history? Winning an extra faceoff a game was definitely a huge asset for the team.

        That same year Bonino actually got a heavier defensive burden than Sutter and his even-strength goal differential was -6, or +12 better than Sutter (his +/- was -5, or 15 better than Sutter, for what it’s worth), he scored more goals, had more assists, received a handful of Selke votes, and lifted the cup a second time.

        Bonino’s also missed only about 30 games since the trade, while Sutter has missed almost 150. You can’t be an asset if you’re not playing.

  • Captain Video

    Interesting how the Canucks’ front office only engaged in sensible asset management when a gun was pointed at their heads. The return for Kesler was pretty good and, as the author correctly points out, much better than the long-term costs of retaining Kesler. What became of those assets, however, was utterly mismanaged. I expect those trades to be dealt with in separate articles.

  • LiborPolasek

    Cannot change the past and with hindsight, this trade or other trades can easily be dissected to death. What should matter now is what state the Canucks are currently in despite all of these moves: are the Canucks in cap hell, is our core still garbage and does the prospect list still look bare ? Sure with hindsight and some luck in the lottery they would be further ahead in this so called rebuild. Past failures or success does not guarantee anything in the future except that hopefully with those experience(s) the person in charge will hopefully make a good decision that benefits all; the future is not guaranteed despite our best efforts to control the outcome (there is no “reset” button in life). The Aquillini’s new that Benning would be a cheaper option because he was a first time GM and that he would be eager to prove himself as the right person for the job. In my opinion, despite all the hindsight complaining and lecturing, the Canucks are still in a decent position to compete moving forward. Perhaps to the hindsight GM’s name a replacement you would hire if you were the owner of the Canucks or name a player you would draft next week and why ????

    I appreciate a good discussion but crying about spilt milk with the lecturing or trolling is just not productive because it offers no solution…

    • TheRealPB

      Do you think this article is lecturing or trolling? I thought it was a pretty fair assessment of the Kesler trade — if anything it’s quite lenient on Benning. I think Benning did fine on the actual trade, as others pointed out it’s what he did with the assets he acquired that’s more questionable — trading Bonino and McCann in particular. I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that he could have gotten some of the other young prospects and players that some are throwing in here, but his inability to assess Gudbranson and Sutter properly (the acquisitions made with those assets) that is in question.

  • Kanuckhotep

    What a way for a rookie GM to start his tenure. What else could Benning do with an unhappy player who’d only got to a couple of teams of Kesler’s choosing? Unforgettable was Kesler’s 2011 performance against Nashville in the 2011 2nd round of the playoffs, taking the Canucks on his back in a tough series. But… the guy didn’t want to be here and if this is/ was the case then the fan base shouldn’t want him here either. He bad mouthed Vancouver on more than one occasion and I say good riddance. Let Bob Murray worry about his money pit contract.

  • Nuck16

    IMO the general policy of trading away star players or any player with value once they get to their late 20’s early 30’s is wise. You had them for their best years…trade them for picks and prospects before they start to decline. That’s how teams can be perennial contenders since if you are a perennial contender chances are you’re picking low in the draft every year.

  • Synthesis

    “Benning was at least able to convert Gudbranson into Tanner Pearson”.

    This really deserves some sort of gold star. JB has his own methods when it comes to impossible.

  • Puck Viking

    Benning should have got Theodore and the 1st but again in benning fashion he had to think a prospect was a bad return because he was trying to force his BS rebuild on the fly crap.

    • Mike Bossy

      Yeah, Benning was in no position to demand things. Kesler only wanted Anaheim (and maybe Pittsburgh). If I’m Anaheim, I’m giving up barely market value (or what I want to give you) for Kesler just because I can.