“If we’re going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can’t get what you’re worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker room knows that, and for us to be a great team going forward, we’re going to have to take a pay cut.”
-Ryan Kesler, March, 2009
-Ryan Kesler, March, 2010
Driving to hockey with a friend who is a Canucks fan last night, we got to talking about Ryan Kesler signing with the Canucks for six years and $30MM. He was pretty happy with the deal, although there was something of an awkward silence when I muttered something about Kesler looking sort of like Shawn Horcoff and that Horcoff hadn’t worked out particularly well this season.
I didn’t realize quite how apt the comparison was when I made it. Here are their numbers since the lockout and then, their numbers between ages 22-25.
At evens, there’s just zero difference between them. I suspect a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the Oilers might be inclined to credit Ales Hemsky for Horcoff’s ES offence, but Horcoff and Hemsky weren’t playing together a lot pre-lockout and Hemsky’s far more of a dominant PP player than he is an ES player.
I took a look through some of the numbers Desjardins has compiled over the past few years and they cast Kessler in a pretty favourable light. Like Horcoff, he seems to be the Canucks go-to guy with respect to playing tough minutes. His Corsi (just eyeballing things) has surpassed Horcoff’s over the past few years though. He’s a larger guy than Horcoff and more physical to boot.
The PP thing is interesting to me – Kesler’s numbers over the past two seasons, albeit in a fairly small sample (just under 400 minutes) suggest that he’s a legitimate goal scorer on the PP, something that Horcoff, who’s been respectable but no more, can’t say. If I had to pick between the two, I’d certainly take Kesler at this stage in his career – fewer miles on the odometer, consistently better Corsi and (possibly) some real PP ability. All in all, I’d say that this is a deal that I’d sign but, for those who have trashed Lowe for the Horcoff contract, these players are more than a little bit similar in terms of what they provide to the team, Horcoff had UFA rights that Kesler didn’t and Kesler managed to come pretty close to Horcoff’s number.
As always, the contract stuff intrigues me. After Kesler made his comments last year about people needing to take less to build a contender (Roberto Luongo and the Sedins were ll in line for new deals in the summer), he supposedly got a phone call from Glenn Healy chastising him. While I don’t quite understand why the PA cares about this, Kesler seems to me like he did pretty well in terms of dollars. I took a look a few weeks ago at how salaries have increased since the lockout. Here’s a chart that summarizes that information – the blue line is 2003-04, the pink line is 2009-10.
I’m using the USA Today database for the 2003-04 numbers and nhlnumbers.com for this year. I’m hesitant to go beyond 400 players because of some data quality problems with USA Today. It’s clear though, that the distribution of money has altered – the middle class player is actually doing better now than he was in 2003-04, while the guys at the upper end of the salary scale still haven’t recovered to anywhere near the point that they were in 2003-04. The lower class, I suspect, has been stagnant.
In that context, the contracts that players like Horcoff and Kesler got can, to a certain extent, be seen as part of the changing salary structure in hockey that’s been occasioned by the salary cap. They’re both players who are part of the middle class and that group is getting a bigger share of the money than they once did. 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 know that I go on about him but I really like how Mike Gillis structures his team. He hasn’t tied up a lot of money outside of players who are legitimately stars. He hasn’t locked up a lot of long term money in older players. The Canucks have both short and long term flexibility. As an Oilers fan, it’s a little depressing cheering for a team that’s run about 60% as well. The Oilers are about a year away from having the same sort of financial flexibility; I have little in terms of expectations that they’ll do anywhere near as well with it.