It was no coincidence that Ryan Kesler’s best season in the NHL coincided with the best team in Vancouver Canucks history.
In 2010-11, Kesler scored a career-high 41 goals as the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy and came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup. For his efforts, he was awarded the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the league, snapping Pavel Datsyuk’s string of three straight seasons winning the award.
Unfortunately for Kesler and the Canucks, 2010-11 was the high-water mark for player and club. As a result, he’s now a member of the Anaheim Ducks, after the 29-year-old requested, and was granted, a trade out of Vancouver.
“I’m going to Anaheim to win a championship,” said Kesler. “That’s going to be my sole goal, and my team’s sole goal.”
And history shows that championship teams often have a player with a Selke on their résumé — be it Datsyuk in Detroit, Jonathan Toews in Chicago, Patrice Bergeron in Boston, Rod Brind’Amour in Carolina, or going all the way back to Bob Gainey in Montreal. The 2007 Ducks team that won it all had a Selke nominee in Samuel Pahlsson.
“I think I can fit into this team and be a good No. 2 behind Ryan Getzlaf,” said Kesler, who played behind Henrik Sedin in Vancouver. “We have size, speed and grit. I’d say that Getzlaf is one of the best centers in the game. I’m going to come in behind him and do my job.”
Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for Kesler, who’s suffered the two biggest losses a hockey player can possibly suffer. In 2011, he lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. In 2010, he lost the Olympic gold-medal game as a member of Team USA.
Health, however, could be another story. A veteran of 655 regular-season NHL games, Kesler’s body has taken a lot of punishment. He had hip surgery in the summer of 2011. He had shoulder surgery in the summer of 2012.
Yet despite all the hard miles he’s logged, Kesler still managed to lead the Canucks with 25 goals in 2013-14, while averaging 21:49 of ice time per game. Among NHL forwards, only Sidney Crosby (21:58) played more per contest.
In fact, Kesler’s increased ice time under coach John Tortorella became a hot topic in hockey-mad Vancouver, where there’s rarely a shortage of hot topics.
“A lot of people in Vancouver make a lot of everything,” Kesler said in Sochi during the Olympics. “It’s two minutes [more per game]. It’s two shifts. It’s not that big a deal for me.”
Shortly thereafter, it was reported he wanted out of Vancouver.
Kesler has two years remaining on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. For Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, the addition of the Livonia native makes Anaheim “a bona fide threat to become an elite team.”
Said Boudreau: “I’ve never coached a team in the NHL that’s had a second-line center that you’re going to have with Ryan Kesler. It’s a great [acquisition], and it gets you excited.”
To be sure, the Ducks still have question marks, namely on the blue line and in goal. But assuming he can stay healthy, Kesler should make them a tougher out in the playoffs.
“After the season in reviewing things, we knew we had to fill that,” Anaheim general manager Bob Murray said. “Not that [Kesler is] a second-line center, but we knew we needed someone behind Ryan Getzlaf. This is a huge move for our hockey team.”