Ryan Kesler vs Phil Kessel: Contract Value and the Ghost of Dave Nonis

*Note to the reader: I realize that Ryan Kesler has never been a Toronto Maple Leaf, Phil Kessel is no longer a Toronto Maple Leaf, and none of us want to hear Dave Nonis’ name ever again here in Leafland. I’m not sorry for writing this anyway.*

On a day where Cody Franson is still unfairly unsigned and gifs of Lawson Crouse eating a worm crept into my timeline while I was trying to eat breakfast, it seems pretty logical that the Anaheim Ducks decided to add to the morning mayhem with a headline contract of their own:

Oh boy, Anaheim. 

In all fairness to Ryan Kesler, he’s been a twenty-plus goal scorer nearly every season since 2007. The one year he fell short on twenty goals was in 2012-2013, and that was both a lockout-shortened year and an injury-shortened year for Kesler himself due to a myriad of injuries. 

He’s also one of the toughest skaters to play against for the same reason that Corey Perry is an absolute nightmare for the opposition – he’s annoying, he’s chirpy, and he still manages to be good at what he does. It’s one thing to get mouthy with the other team when you’re a bottom six grinder looking to draw a penalty, but it’s another thing entirely when a top six goal scorer gets in the face of his opponents and rattles them en route to yet another puck finding the back of the net. 

Still, Ryan Kesler hasn’t hit fifty points in a single season since Vancouver’s infamous 2010-2011 campaign, where they went down to the wire against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final and very nearly became champions themselves. Since then, Kesler has been on a slight but noticeable decline — he’s dropped off a bit in scoring, and his possession stats have been good (but not great). He’s not a Selke candidate anymore, by a long shot.

Since Dave Nonis just hopped on board as a special advisor (or something equally ridiculous and showboat-y) with Bob Murray over in Anaheim, seeing Kesler ink a deal that will pay him just south of $6.9M AAV until he’s thirty-seven — making him currently the third highest paid skater in the 2016-2017 season on Anaheim’s roster — is all too familiar for Leafs fans. 

Immediately, Twitter went nuts comparing the Kesler contract to that of another American-born skater whose last name starts with a ‘K’ and has never won a Stanley Cup.

On the surface, it seems like these are two comparable contracts – but while they’re both particularly Dave Nonis-y (especially given that the Ducks also made a rapidly regressing Kevin Bieksa their highest-paid defenseman for the next three years), it’s actually very hard to compare the two. 

Last September, our good friends over at Canucks Army took a look at whether Ryan Kesler still deserves the hype surrounding his reported value following some not-so-excellent final seasons in Vancouver. The bottom line is that no, he probably doesn’t – but he is still a good possession driver, especially when pitted against some of the league’s toughest competition

When looking at it that way, this seems like a reasonable contract. In theory, the Ducks locked up a top six centre with good possession value against the vast majority of the league’s top-nine competition, giving them a solid option with considerable offensive upside for what we can assume will be the next three to four years. 

With the retained salary the Leafs are holding, though, the Penguins are also likely getting reasonable value for Kessel with his $6.8M AAV modified cap hit – while he clearly doesn’t have anywhere close to the impact on shutting down opponents and eliminating scoring chances that Kesler does, he more than makes up for that with the scoring chances Kessel creates for his own teammates and himself. Once again, the Penguins theoretically have one of the league’s best pure goal scorers locked in to provide elite scoring for what we can assume will be the next three to four years.

Do either deals deserve to be ripped on?

As a Toronto fan, it’s easy to rant about the Phil Kessel deal – and now that someone else is dealing with it (and seemingly excited about it), it’s easy to get bogged down by a debate of Kessel vs. Kesler. Is Kesler being overpaid to probably lose 90% of his value with the rapid play declination of a prototypical power forward? Is Kessel overpaid for someone who hates the coaches and eats too many hot dogs? Are they both overpaid? 

In conclusion: three or four years down the road, yes, they’re both going to be overpaid. They’ll have contracts that look about as bloated as the Patrick Sharp contract, and that’s a best case scenario – worst case, we’ll get to deal with another Mike Richards fiasco or they’ll get bought out. 

For now, though, I think fellow TLN writer Bobby Cappuccino put it best: 

“Conclusion: While Kesler’s deal technically has nothing to do with Toronto, it is frustrating to see a deal like that get handed out a year before UFA status, with no competition yet from other teams – to a guy that is what…MAYBE the number three forward on that team? – while Toronto’s best players get absolutely destroyed for their contracts consistently, even though they perform better. 

But hey, at least Kesler’s deal wasn’t Loiselle’d – AKA all in signing bonuses AKA buyout-proof.”

  • Gary Empey

    What proof or research do you have that Nonis was behind the Kesler resigning or any contract negotiations? #conspiracy theory

    I’m betting things were already in motion and if you check the facts with simmons hot dog vendor you might note that there are few players who have even longer contracts then Kesler (pre-Nonis). So 5 years for Kesler is not without the realm of anaheim way of doing business.

    To be clear, I’m not arguing the Kesler deal is a good signing. And I’m not arguing that Nonis is competent.

    I however do feel there is betrayal to blogging integrity with the Nonis conspiracy as much as there is betray to journalistic integrity with stories of Kessel’s hot dog fetish. I think you would do much better presenting kessel vs kesler without introduction of potatoes and hotdogs.

  • Gary Empey

    In the cap era these types of long term deals, to over-thirty players, often backfire after two years.

    Some teams are still signing them though. I am glad to see Toronto being very wary about committing the team long term and at the same time trying to move some of the long term deals they presently have.

    PS No more ” Me love you long time”

    • BEDay

      Amen!

      Is it just me, or can GM’s not get it through their heads that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. If a player’s own team doesn’t want them or if nobody is beating down the door(in Kesler’s case) there must be a problem and that should at least make you think about signing these long term deals…

      A friend once told me a somewhat similar anecdote concerning beautiful women. He said for every beautiful single lady walking around town, there is a guy somewhere that is glad the b*&@# is gone…

      Hey Pittsburgh…you paying attention? Oh, never mind, you’ve already bought the cow…

  • Gary Empey

    The Kesler deal cannot be a Nonis signing because
    1. The length is not greater then 5 years
    2. The contract is absent of obscene bonuses
    3. The contract is not “untradeable”
    4. The contract is not “buyout” proof

    This is still a very bad contract but does not come anywhere close to the sheer incompetence what Nonis and his team are capable of when negotiating contracts.

    Funny how Nonis never wanted to trade Kessel for a package that did not return value for an elite player. I can’t say the same of (or have evidence to suggest that) current management for dumping players. And further retaining salary on Kessel is a very “Nonis” move that the current management felt compelled to do. Managing higher end talent is something that Nonis did adequately but in almost every other area I can think of he fumbled as GM. Here’s hoping the current management staff stops making these kind of mistakes.

    • Gary Empey

      The Ducks have signed center Ryan Kesler to a six-year contract extension through the 2021-22 NHL season.

      2016-2020: no move clause
      ——2021: limited no trade

  • STAN

    No one has ever accused an NHL General Manager of being a rocket surgeon or brain engineer, Scotty Bowman one of the exceptions.

    The real delight for the NHLPA is that when an idiot hands far too much money and contract length to a player, it establishes a higher bar for all the other average players to be handed better than average contracts.

    And this habit of rewarding players for what they’ve done and not what they’ll do is about as backward a business strategy as I can think of.

    But I like Cat’s hint that perhaps Nonis had a little influence on this deal and the nutty Bieksa contract.