Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kesler is Struggling, But it's Not Entirely His Fault

A lot of finger-pointing takes place after a game like last night's, so it was only a matter of time before somebody brought up Ryan Kesler's early struggles. I've heard criticism from a few sources this morning, and it's not entirely undeserved. Kesler has 1 point in his first 6 games, and hasn't looked to be nearly the dominant second-line center we saw last season. He's not creating as many chances as we're used to; he's missing shots; he's not as noticeable. At this point, it's hard to believe this guy has 134 points in his last two seasons. What's his problem?

Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Kesler has been removed from every situation in which he thrives.

The majority of Kesler's success came either on the 2nd line with Mason Raymond (and usually with Mikael Samuelsson), or on the 2nd powerplay unit. This season, he's spent little time with Raymond, and no time whatsoever on that 2nd PP formation. He's freshly shaven Samson.

Last night, the 2nd line consisted of Ryan Kesler between Peter Schaefer and Jannik Hansen, a duo that has combined for zero points this season and will likely improve that number very slowly over the next six months. To wit: they're not 2nd line players. It's hard to even call that unit a second line when two-thirds of it are unmistakably bottom-six guys.

Why is Kesler with them? Despite 50 assists last year saying otherwise, he's never been a particularly effective playmaker, so he's certainly not the right guy to carry the line's offensive load. In fact, most of Kesler's offensive success comes when he's paired with other skilled players. He saw success two years ago with Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra. He developed an offensive identity last season with burgeoning scorer Mason Raymond (and they worked best when the third guy with them was a playmaker). Kesler's an opportunist, not a generator, and there will be far fewer opportunities than he's used to when he shares the ice with Jannik Hansen and Peter Schaefer.

On the powerplay, Kesler anchored the second unit, camping out near the half-wall, and sniping shots from out above the circle. He scored 12 power play goals last season, a lot of them the same way. He was an effective, consistent threat defensive formations had to respect, and it opened up space for everyone else on the unit. Kesler was the lynchpin of a power play formation, but now he's a fifth option, with Daniel, Henrik, and two point shots all looking for the puck. Even if that first unit has success, it won't be because of Kesler. His goal the other night is evidence he remains an excellent powerplay option. We could use one of those on the second unit. Why waste him on the first?

Secondary scoring was not an issue last season, but with Kesler's struggles, it's become one this year. It's not entirely his fault: Kes has been completely neutered thus far. If you want him to be an offensive option, you need to let him play his game. What does Alain Vigneault expect him to do when all the elements that make him successful are taken away?


  1. I am so glad this is not another Rick Rypien post.

    Also, dead on accurate. He's being put in situations that do not use his capabilities to their full advantage. I'm not an AV-hater and his bizarre line combinations have borne fruit in the past (who seriously thought that Burrows would work with the Sedins?) but there's an argument that he experiments too much instead of going back to proven combinations and tactics.

    I'm sad that the unique powerplay formations that I was so excited about in the preseason and first couple games of the regular season are faltering so soon. Part of the problem is that Kesler is in an unfamiliar situation on the 1st powerplay unit and that the 2nd powerplay unit has no identity without Kesler.

  2. My finger is still pointed at him. Agreed that he's been taken out of his comfort zone, and should soon put back to where he can best maximize his output. However, the guy seems to still be in a pre-season state of mind. Effort has been lacking at both ends of the ice. Hope he snaps out of it soon.

  3. Crazy...
    After two Kesler goals yesterday, I suppose that's why the widget thought it would be good to bring this one up...

    The thing is, getting him out of his confort zone has beenn difficult - see this article on his struggle - but boy, once he found it...

    It may sound crazy, but I think Hansen is really good for Kesler even if Yannick has everything of a bottom-six and Kes is first-line-center material, I really like them together.

    Tambo/Kes/Hansen really worked well, and it's just the comeback of MayRay(which I like, but I don't know where)

    Well, all is well in Canucksland for the moment, life is good and PITB jas become the greatest blog out there, congrats!

  4. In retrospect, TBCF, this article is a good indication of how wrong anyone who writes about sports teams will wind up being many, many times a season. At the time, this was a solid argument, but now, we've discovered that Kesler was capable of making those adjustments, and I underestimated his ability to thrive.


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