Kesler says Ducks letdowns are ‘not going to happen again’

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Anaheim Ducks management stepped up to the plate in handing Ryan Kesler a hefty six-year, $41.25 million contract extension. Now it’s up to Kesler & Co. to prove that it’s all worth it.

The 30-year-old told the team website that he believes the Ducks “have all the pieces, we just need to put them together.” Kesler also said that falling short of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final ultimately serves as a valuable learning experience for the team.

At what point do you need to put those lessons together for an even deeper playoff run, though? Kesler looked back at the Ducks’ inability to put the Chicago Blackhawks away, including a 5-2 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final:

“We needed a killer instinct in Game 6. We didn’t have it,” Kesler said. “There are two ways we can go about it: We can sulk about it or we can learn from it. I’m gonna make sure, just like all the other leaders on this team, that we learn from this and we learn not to let it happen again. That’s our job as leaders on this team. That’s not gonna happen again, I’ll tell you that.”

One cannot help but wonder how wide open the window really is for the Ducks, actually.

Wrong side of 30

Look, the West remains brutal, particularly with the ascension of Anaheim’s old nemesis, the Dallas Stars.

Still, this may just be the Ducks’ best chance to go all the way. The Blackhawks suffered some significant losses during this summer, and many others seemed to idle or even get worse. On paper, Anaheim might just be the favorite in its conference.

Beyond that, the team’s big names aren’t getting any younger, and the days of having a glut of cap space might be fleeting.

As of this writing, Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are all 30 years old. According to many, that’s roughly the age where big scorers start to see diminishing returns.

Costly contracts coming

The Ducks will also see a squeeze in contracts, particularly if they don’t get some other extensions done early (like they did with Kesler).

They still have some haggling to do with Carl Hagelin* and Jakob Silfverberg before the 2015-16 season begins. Gearing up for 2016-17 may prove costly, too, as their three goalies (Frederik Andersen, John Gibson, Anton Khudobin) and significant young defensemen Sami Vatanen, Simon Despres and Hampus Lindholm will all need new contracts.

Even with the bright side of Khudobin being the only UFA in mind, the Ducks seem rapidly shift from being a contender with a startling salary cap cushion to another championship hopeful with little room to breathe.

***

Kesler can shrug off the pressure to win all he wants, but with that big new deal, he’ll shoulder a lot of the blame if the Ducks fall short once more.

* – Sorry, had to do it.

Ducks give Kesler six-year extension worth $41.25 million

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The Anaheim Ducks have signed center Ryan Kesler to a six-year contract extension worth a reported $41.25 million, the club announced today.

That means Kesler, 30, will have a cap hit of $6.875 million starting in 2016-17 and through 2021-22. He still has one year left on his current deal, with a cap hit of $5 million.

Kesler had 20 goals and 27 assists last season with the Ducks, his first in Anaheim after being traded there from Vancouver. A former Selke Trophy winner, he added seven goals and six assists in 16 playoff games.

The Ducks are gambling that Kesler, a veteran of 736 NHL games, can maintain his level of play, along with fellow 30-year-old forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, each of whom are signed through 2020-21 for a combined cap hit of almost $17 million.

Related: Boudreau has ‘never coached a team in the NHL’ with a 2C like Kesler

Ducks confirm Chris Stewart signing

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The Anaheim Ducks finally confirmed that they signed Chris Stewart to a one-year contract on Sunday, one day after word surfaced regarding a deal.

They didn’t provide the financial details, so we’ll assume that it’s indeed a $1.7 million salary and cap hit as multiple reports suggest.

Beleskey replacement?

Most obviously, the Ducks are likely hoping that Stewart, 27, can help fill the void left behind by Matt Beleskey’s free agent departure. Stewart’s a power forward who can mix scoring and snarl, especially during his best moments.

It’s wise not to expect too much, as Stewart’s disappointed often enough that he even commented on the theme of offseason storylines revolving around possible rebounds last summer.

It’s fair to say that he has some scoring touch, but expecting him to approach his peak form (particularly back-to-back 28-goal seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11) could really increase the chances of a letdown.

Not much of a risk

Pessimists might see parallels between the Ducks picking up Dany Heatley off the scrap heap last summer.

Then again, in a way, that wouldn’t really be a disaster for anyone but Stewart. Heatley’s weak offering obviously didn’t do much to hurt Anaheim’s chances in 2014-15, and the Ducks aren’t taking a huge gamble in handing Stewart a one-year deal.

Instead, it’s a great opportunity for Stewart.

He can bolster his chances of getting a much better contract next time around, particularly if he can convince the Ducks to buck the growing trend of teams packaging Stewart in various trades. He’s still in his prime years, so it’s reasonable to ponder a strong year for the feisty forward, particularly if he gets lucky enough to skate with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry every now and then. Even if his linemates are weaker, Stewart gets to play in an aggressive system on a contending team. For all we know, this could be a sneaky bargain for GM Bob Murray.

(Uh oh, Stewart is roping us in again, isn’t he?)

Big money: Tarasenko signs eight-year, $60 million extension with Blues

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The St. Louis Blues have signed forward Vladimir Tarasenko to an eight-year, $60 million contract.

With a cap hit of $7.5 million, the deal makes Tarasenko the highest-paid player on the Blues.

One of the league’s top young stars, the 23-year-old had 37 goals in 2014-15, fewer than only four others in the NHL. He added six more goals in six playoff games.

The Blues drafted Tarasenko 16th overall in 2010.

As far as recent comparables go, it’s not easy to come up with many, given Tarasenko was a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level deal. Brandon Saad just signed a six-year, $36 million deal with Columbus, but his production pales next to Tarasenko’s.

Elite scoring wingers-wise, Phil Kessel is on an eight-year deal with an $8 million cap hit (shared now by both the Leafs and Penguins), while Corey Perry is also on an eight-year deal, with an $8.625 million cap hit.

Kessel, 27, and Perry, 30, each have a longer track record, but Tarasenko is considerably younger. And, of course, Kessel and Perry signed those deals as pending unrestricted free agents, which gave them more leverage in negotiations.

‘It’s hard to find players like Phil Kessel’

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For all the criticisms of Phil Kessel — and we’re not saying they’re all without merit — here are some facts:

— He has 247 goals in 668 career NHL games. Among active players, that’s the 29th-most goals. And he’s only 27.

— Over the last five seasons, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Corey Perry have scored more goals than Kessel. And Kessel’s center has mostly been Tyler Bozak. In Pittsburgh, it’ll be Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

That’s why Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is excited to have acquired Kessel, whom he considers “right there” in a class with Ovechkin and Stamkos.

“It’s hard to find players like Phil Kessel,” Rutherford told TSN.

Not only did Rutherford get the player he wanted without giving up Derrick Pouliot or Olli Maatta, two young defensemen the Pens will need even more now, he convinced the Leafs to eat $1.25 million per year of Kessel’s salary.

Without that concession by the Leafs, the deal couldn’t have happened, Rutherford said, noting that the Penguins already have Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury signed to big, long-term contracts.

Oh, and Rutherford isn’t done yet. He still hopes to add another winger, as well as a fourth-line center.