Irwin: Reflecting on the Kesler trade

The Anaheim Ducks made one of the biggest moves of last summer when they acquired Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks to be their second-line center. In return, the Canucks got Nick Bonino, a late first-round pick, and defenceman Luca Sbisa; a haul widely panned by most Vancouver media and fans.

The Ducks followed up the Kesler trade by choosing not to extend RFA center Matthieu Perreault a qualifying offer after a 43 point season (in only 69 games). He was quickly snapped up as a UFA by the Jets, who signed the 26 year-old to a nine million dollar contract over three years.

So how have the three centers done with their new teams? Below is a graphic comparing their play, inspired by @MimicoHero’s “hero charts”. While the hero charts include all games from the 2012/2013 season to date, I have only included their stats from this season. The length of the bar represents their rank among the 350 forwards who have played more than 500 minutes this season.

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While Perreault ranks near the top of the league in shot suppression and relative possession and Bonino has excelled at point scoring and shot generation, Kesler is below league average in shot suppression, relative corsi, and points per 60 minutes. While Kesler’s possession game has declined with age, his poor production this season isn’t an outlier: he scored at 1.34 P/60 at even strength from 2011-2014.

Until last season, the Ducks were run over in possession with Nick Bonino on the ice, controlling only 44.3% of the shot attempts. His breakout 20 goal season came with the huge caveat of a 14.3% shooting percentage, but he also had improved to almost neutral possession for the first time in his career. This season, he’s improved still further. His even-strength play has been above and beyond what the Canucks could have hoped for this season, scoring even-strength points at above a first-line rate.

Perreault is a perfect example of a player just desperately needing more opportunity to produce. From 2011 to 2014, he had a 53.5% corsi and scored 2.35 points per 60 minutes at even-strength. Perreault has been a revelation this season for the Jets, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The Canucks would have been smart to target him in the Kesler trade, instead of Bonino.

The only part of the game Kesler has truly excelled at for the Ducks is special teams: he leads the team in shot attempts per 60 on the powerplay and has logged more minutes on the penalty kill than any other Duck. Comparatively, Bonino has been an effective penalty killer, but is part of perhaps the league’s least effective second powerplay unit. Perreault has been an effective powerplay weapon, but isn’t used on the penalty kill.

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So while Bonino is a decent penalty killer and Perreault a good powerplay option, neither of them can touch Kesler’s overall special teams impact. In Kesler, the Ducks acquired a 31 year old putting up mediocre even-strength production who dominates special teams, with two seasons left on a $5 million AAV contract.

That special teams contribution is far from insignificant, but it isn’t worth what they paid for it. In trying to shore up their center depth this summer, the Ducks made themselves worse. Perreault and Bonino would have made Anaheim a much better team at even-strength, would have cost less against the cap, and would have allowed the Ducks to keep their second first-round pick.


Nick Bonino and a first for Ryan Kesler was at the very least a defensible decision; there was no guarantee Bonino would even repeat his performance from last season, much less take the step forward he has in Vancouver. It’s unfortunate for them that Vancouver’s choice at 24th overall, Jared McCann, has put together such an impressive season this year. The Ducks are a good team this season, but with a 51.4% score-adjusted corsi they are hardly a cup favourite. Bad asset management is hurting them now and will continue to hurt them.

If anyone ever feels the need to ask the question “do the Anaheim Ducks use analytics in any meaningful way?”, they need only remember that they let Perreault – who has posted a corsi rel below +4.0 only once since 2010 – walk, instead of offering him a little over a million dollars. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they gave up assets to get a player older, more expensive, and less effective than two alternatives already on their roster.

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