Two of the last three seasons have brought about immense success for the Los Angeles Kings, while the NHL’s other two California teams are mired in constant playoff struggles, attracting a reputation for being brilliant in the regular season, but failing to meet the same type of expectations when the postseason rolls around.
While it’s the San Jose Sharks that have the more notable reputation for being that type of team, especially after blowing a 3-0 lead to the eventual Stanley Cup champions last spring, the Anaheim Ducks have garnered similar attention in recent years. They finished second in the Western Conference in 2013, failing to get out of the first round, before getting bounced in the second round last year, as the West’s top seeded club.
They’re hoping that the moves they’ve made this offseason are a key in a potential playoff rebound, with Ryan Kesler serving as the marquee move of the summer. They sent forward Nick Bonino and defenseman Lucas Sbisa to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for the oft-injured veteran center who has developed a reputation almost exclusively based on his ability to dive.
Nonetheless, a change of scenery could do well by Ryan Kesler, who had requested a trade from the rebuilding Canucks long before the summer rolled around. The new front office regime honored his request, and the Ducks were happy to acquire a player that could help them to erase the current perception of them being too top-heavy to find playoff success.
It seems like a long time ago at this point, but Ryan Kesler was once a 40-goal scorer. He found the back of the net 41 times in 2010-11, finishing with 73 points overall. He came back with only 49 points in 77 games the following season, before appearing in only 17 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. Last year, he was back in action for 77, but finished with only 43 points. Nagging injuries and a tumultuous locker room under John Tortorella certainly took their toll.
For Kesler, the situation in Anaheim promises to be much better. He won’t be required to log the tremendous minutes that he needed to in Vancouver, which should be reflected in his ability to stay off of an injury report. He’ll be firmly planted on that second line and should have some time to develop chemistry with whatever young wings that the Ducks choose from their impressive stable of talent to line up on either side of him. As long as he can stay healthy, it’s a fantastic situation for him.
The real query, though, is whether or not the presence of Ryan Kesler transforms the Ducks into a team that can carry regular season success into the playoffs. The short answer would appear to be yes.
A healthy Kesler immediately makes the Ducks a real Stanley Cup threat. He gives them an extremely formidable 1-2 punch down the middle, behind Ryan Getzlaf on the top line. He adds a weapon on the power play (averaged 3:50 with the man advantage last year in Vancouver), which is certainly a welcome asset coming off of a year in which the Ducks ranked no. 22 in power play percentage. He’s a player that finished with a positive relative Corsi in five of seven seasons with Vancouver, despite getting the bulk of his starts each year in his own end.
That’s not to say that the Ducks are a team without questions. The Kings and Chicago Blackhawks may still be deeper, in addition to the question of whether or not the young goaltending tandem in Anaheim is enough to get them over the top. Regardless, this team is a heck of a lot better with Kesler in the mix than without him. Are they better than LA or Chicago? That remains to be seen, but the addition of Kesler certainly helps their chances of overthrowing the two Western powers.
That’s assuming he can stay healthy and shake off the nagging injuries, which has been a tall order for him to fill in the last few years. Stay tuned.