Sunday, May 1st, 2016

The Kesler Signing


Tyler Dellow analyses the Canuck decision to give Ryan Kesler a 6 year $30 million dollar contract. While the comparison to Shawn Horcoff is enough to give any Canuck fan pause, Tyler view of the deal (and Mike Gillis) is generally favourable:

I’ve got my criticisms of Horcoff’s contract – the timing was kind of stupid – but, as I’ve talked about before, in the context of the market, it was a deal that you could understand when it was signed. The Kesler contract is similar, if better. He’s not going to be the steal that he has been in the past but I can see him being worth this deal and, if the PP goal scoring is real, exceeding it.

I’m biased, of course, but I think this is a great signing for Vancouver. While it is certainly expensive, good hockey players are expensive. While Tyler’s statistical comparisons are always interesting, Ryan Kesler is a much better player than his counting numbers, and his numbers are pretty damn good. I think it is hard to find a $5 MM hockey player who is a superior player.

Kesler is one of those guys who is always described as “one of the best two way players” in the NHL. I usually see that as damning with faint praise. Kesler is an outstanding defensive player – arguably the best defensive forward in the league – who also scores nearly a point a game. He’s a great defensive player because he is big, physical and relentless. His closing speed on the puck is astonishing. Canuck opponents seldom have the time to make a good play when he is on the ice.

I think Shawn Horcoff is a good player, one who is unfairly blamed for more than his share of the Oiler woes, but I don’t think he is nearly as good as Kesler. Neither are very many other $5 MM players. Brian Gionta or Scott Gomez? Mike Ribero? Joe Thornton? Alexei Kovalev?

I’ll take Kesler, thank you.

Postscript: I was surprised to see so many errors made in the media about the cap implications of the Kesler deal. The Canucks do not have $24 MM of cap space tied up in four players as was widely reported. After Kesler’s siging, the Canucks have 14 players under contract for next year with about $45 MM committed.

While every contract is choice about where the money is going, Vancouver is in relatively good shape, capwise.

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10 Responses to “The Kesler Signing”
  1. Magicpie says:

    I was surprised to see so many errors made in the media about the cap implications of the Kesler deal. The Canucks do not have $24 MM of cap space tied up in four players as was widely reported.

    I think the mistake everyone in the media made is forgetting Luongo’s new deal (5.3 million or so cap hit) kicks in next year, and using this year’s cap hit (6.75 million) instead. The Vancouver Sun sports section this saturday even had a big graphic with some of Gillis’ signings saying “Luongo $6.75 million per year until 2020-2021” or some such thing. Using his actual cap hit next year the Canucks have $22 million instead of $24 million tied up, though so I guess it’s not that big a difference. What I don’t get is how so many paid hockey media people who are supposed to fact check this stuff could make such a simple mistake.

  2. Greg Ballentine says:

    While I agree with the general idea of this post, it is very wrong to include Joe Thornton as a player you think is less valuable than Ryan Kesler. Afterall, Thornton is the highest scorer in the NHL in the past decade, a former Hart Trophy winner. he is tied for fifth in league scoring. Even if you blame him for San Jose’s lack of playoff success (which is for the most part unfair), Kesler cannot possibly measure up to that level.

    • Tom says:

      I don’t know, Greg. I know I’d be really pissed to give up Kesler for Thornton. I’m not one of Joe’s biggest fans. I think he is great when he gets the puck in the offensive end, particularly down low. I don’t like anything else in his game. How much weight do we give for an extra 30 assists? Does everything else Kesler does for his team add up to 30 assists?

      I’m not surprised Thornton is a much better player in the regular season. The tempo goes up noticeably in the playoffs and Joe isn’t fast enough. He doesn’t get the same amount of time to thread those passes through.

      In the playoffs, he’s going to go head to head with Kesler if the Sharks play the Canucks. I love the matchup. What does that say?

  3. tedlewesde says:

    While I don’t know much about Kessler, being in the East and a Caps fan, I saw a lot of Brooks Laich in your Kessler analysis. Brooks is growing so much in all phases of the game. A true two way threat, PK, and PP. He is going to the net and taking the beating. This sets a reasonable target for pricing him. I shudder at the what it is going to cost the Caps to keep the team together.

  4. Dennis_Prouse says:

    Hey, stop cracking on Joe Thornton! After all, if you need a guy to score a hat trick in an October non-Conference game, Joe is definitely your man.

    Kesler’s contract, while a little big to swallow, is definitely market for a guy of his stature. I don’t view two way player as a backhanded compliment – in fact, it is some of the highest praise available. Guys like Steve Yzerman and Bob Gainey, two slam dunk Hall of Famers, had that label. You simply have to find a way to lock up a guy of that stature, and the fact that they didn’t have to use one of those goofy ten year deals to do it is a bonus.

  5. rajeev says:

    I don’t have much to add re Kesler as a player or his contract, except that I’ll be surprised if there’s an NHL player who has a higher output/cap ratio than Kesler over the next 6 years. There are literally maybe two handfuls of NHL players I’d rather have on my team than Ryan Kesler at any price. Tyler’s analysis of Horcoff and Kesler at EV was, to put it nicely, cute.

    • Tom says:

      That’s about the way I see it, too, Raj, as you well know. It staggers me that there are some Canuck fans who have expressed an opinion about trading him.

      Dennis, I’ve said this before, but I trhink the best comparable to Kesler over my lifetime of watching hockey is Bob Gainey. Ryan may be better offensively, but without the puck they were the same. Datsyuk is all about cleverness and smarts and being in the spot where the puck is going before it gets there. Kesler goes gangbusters after the puck every shift. He’s a turnover machine.

  6. mc79hockey says:

    Horcoff’s another guy whose value is more than his stats. If my analysis of them at EV is cute, I’d like to know exactly what that’s supposed to mean – their numbers are basically mirrors of one another at evens, even when I went and did it by comparing them between ages 22-25 (before Horcoff started playing regularly with Hemsky). When Horcoff was 27, he was the number one centre on a Stanley Cup finalist. For all that people think that the Oilers were a Cinderella team, I had them as in the debate for second best team in the conference if they could get a goalie all year long. They did and they won the thing.

    Horcoff’s had two absolutely horrible years. I don’t particularly like his deal going forward and the timing of it was weird. I’m not quite sure that Kesler at his peak (which is presumably now) is that much better than peak Horcoff though. The Oilers’ problem the past few years hasn’t been the top end of the team – it’s that there are three or four NHL forwards on the team, some D with questionable health and, new this year, zero NHL goalies. None of that should erase that he’s been an excellent player, one who was certainly in Kesler’s class, up until he had shoulder surgery in 2008.

    As far as the slagging of Thornton goes…he’s third in the West in playoff points/game since the lockout. Just saying.

    • rajeev says:

      Horcoff’s another guy whose value is more than his stats.

      Agreed. Horcoff is a good player. Just not nearly as good at the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet as Kesler. I hadn’t thought of it but I think Tom’s B-Mo comparison is a good one, though Horcoff’s size lets him do things B-Mo can’t/couldn’t.

      If my analysis of them at EV is cute, I’d like to know exactly what that’s supposed to mean – their numbers are basically mirrors of one another at evens, even when I went and did it by comparing them between ages 22-25 (before Horcoff started playing regularly with Hemsky).

      Well, your inclusion of the ages 22-25 data, I assume, indicates your understand why the post-lockout data is not particularly valuable or helpful. That is, it is painfully misleading due to the absence of the context of that data, e.g.; (1) quality of linemates (Horcoff was in fact paired with some pretty fantastic linemates in Hemsky and Smyth/Penner whereas Kesler saw a lot of time with Raymond, Isbister, and the Alex Burrows that was barely removed from the ECHL and scored 3 goals a season); (2) role on team/quality of competition (Horcoff, though certainly the defensive conscious on whatever line he played on, was not put on a pure checking line nearly as often as Kesler; whereas the Oilers needed Horcoff to score, the Canucks had the Sedins and even Naslund and pals for that); (3) situational ice time (Horcoff played more when the Oilers were behind and needing a goal (not a tough choice between Horcoff and Stoll) whereas Kesler played more when the Canucks were ahead and protecting a lead); (4) Zone starts (I’d pretty confidently guess that Kesler has a higher ratio of Def/Off faceoffs than Horcoff throughout this period). All of these factors make it harder for Kesler to match Horcoff’s EV counting numbers over that period, and that he did so is particularly impressive.

      The 22-25 year old data falls victim to basically the same contextual considerations. Maybe with the exception of 03-04, Horcoff had a much smaller role on those Oilers teams than Kesler at the same age; the Oilers had Marchant or Reasoner to play the tough mins and take the D-zone draws whereas Kesler was facing the opponents’ best lines as early as 2006. Kesler was the bona fide shut down center as a 22-year old on a very good Canucks team (highest qual comp along with Matt Cooke). Horcoff did not have such responsibility at that age. From a very young age Kesler has been an absolute beast at things like pursuing the puck, winning puck battles, picking up the right man on the back check, putting the puck into safe positions, annoying the hell out of everyone on the other team, etc. Horcoff is good at all those things too, but Kesler is one of the best of his generation. Add to that an elite level wrist shot (even better than Horcoff’s long since passed Mexican voodoo-era shot), and blazing speed, and you have one of the best players in the NHL.

      I think there’s some real value to the things you like to do, but the deficiencies in the methodology (probably inherent deficiencies) are pretty well illuminated in the context of these two players. Players with arguably not dissimilar skill sets but that play on differently composed teams and in different roles on those teams can’t be conveniently evaluated statistically. Which is a major problem but does not even begin to touch the bigger problem that a player like Kesler cannot be properly evaluated by scoring statistics alone. I think what you’ve done here is not without cleverness, but it is a bit silly and slightly infuriating for those who know just how good Kesler is. I believe you mentioned somewhere earlier in the year that you hadn’t had the chance to see the Oilers play much this season, which I suspect means you’ve seen the Canucks play even less this year (and perhaps last year as well). I know you are hesitant to attribute value to any hockey analysis that cannot be represented in spreadsheet form, but I suggest you spend some time watching Ryan Kesler play. I love Shawn Horcoff, but Shawn Horcoff is no Ryan Kesler. If I have a son, I want him to play hockey just like Kesler does. Scratch that, I want him to live his life just like Kesler plays hockey.

  7. Tom says:

    I called the comparison interesting and it gave me pause until I remembered the age difference when the contracts were signed. I like Horcoff a lot as a player, too, but I think Brendan Morrison was the apt comparable to Horcoff when both were playing on a good team. I still think they are the best matches as players. I don’t know how they matched up statistically. Both were fast, good defensively, good shot, good playmaking. Not great at anything but good at everything.

    The differences I see are a) the Oilers wanted to keep Horcoff while the Canucks were planning a handoff to Sedin, and b) Morrison got hurt before he signed a good contract while Horcoff got hurt after signing.

    As far as the slagging of Thornton goes…he’s third in the West in playoff points/game since the lockout. Just saying.

    Yeah, well, I’m not really surprised. Thornton is not like Morrison or Horcoff. He is great at one thing, and below average at everything else. He is great in a very important part of the game, one of the few hockey skills that shows up clearly in the statistics. Kesler is a great defensive player, an attribute that is very poorly measured. In other respects, Kesler is above average.

    The question is “Do I want Kesler’s bundle of skills or Joe Thornton’s bundle of skills?” That question depends on what else I have on the team, but generally speaking I think Kesler will do more to help me win hockey games than Thornton will.

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