With another 3-point night to extend his point-scoring streak to 8 games, Ryan Kesler has suddenly become the subject of speculation: is he the best player in the Western Conference? Twitter was abuzz with the question last night, it was one of the main topics of conversation on the Team 1040 morning show on my drive in to work, and Gordon McIntyre even asks if he’s the best player in hockey. The sentiment is nice, but off-base. The argument could be made that he is the hottest player in the Western Conference (in terms of his play on the ice, not his physique), but one hot streak does not make him the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Ryan Kesler and would argue that he is just as important to the team’s success as Luongo and the Sedins, but in a conference with Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, and the aforementioned Sedins, it’s a little early to anoint him with oil and declare him king. It’s especially frustrating to see the Sedins continue to get short shrift despite making their nest among the top five in Western Conference scoring. Of note: 14 of Kesler’s 34 points were on the powerplay, where he plays with the Sedins. This is not a coincidence.
He has, however, entered into the conversation, which is impressive in and of itself. And there is one statistic that leads to the question posed in the title of this post: can Ryan Kesler get even better?
The Inside the Numbers section of the upcoming January 17th edition of The Hockey News looks into the best and worst players in the latter half of the season. The main metric used is points-per-game, specifically the greatest increases and decreases in points-per-game between the first and the last halves of the season. Since the lockout, the player with the greatest increase in points-per-game during the second half of the season is Ryan Kesler. From The Hockey News:

The 26-year-old has had a better points-per-game production in the second half of every season since the lockout (except in 2007-08, where he dropped by a measly 0.05 points/game played). Over the past five seasons, Kesler managed 89 points in 203 games in the first half while earning 121 points in 171 games in the second half, an increase of .27 points per game. Among current players, no one can touch Kesler’s mark.

It’s a touch strong to say no one can touch Kesler, when Sam Gagner’s increase of 0.265 is just 0.004 behind Kesler’s mark of 0.269, but those are still impressive numbers that show just how much Kesler is able to elevate his game. We are almost at the halfway mark of the season and Kesler has 34 points in 35 games, for a point-per-game average of 0.97, putting him on pace for 80 points this season, which would best last season’s career high 75.

While no guarantee, his historical trend of increasing his point production in the stretch drive is a good sign. For the sake of argument, let’s say that he continues his 0.97 points-per-game pace through game 41 on the schedule and increases his production by the 0.269 mark mentioned in The Hockey News, pushing him up to 1.24 points-per-game through the final 41 games of the season. That would give him 51 points on top of the 40 he would have tallied through the first half, giving him a total of 91 points on the season, which is not an unreasonable mark.
91 points would match Brad Richards output from last season, where he finished second to Henrik Sedin in points in the Western Conference. 91 points would put him among the elite scorers in the NHL. 91 points would be a good argument, along with his continued stellar defensive play, for naming him the best forward in the Western Conference. He’s not there yet, but he has the potential, which is extremely exciting.
As an aside, two other Canucks made the top-30 in point-per-game increase: Alexandre Burrows and Manny Malhotra, who have managed +0.145 and +-.142 increases post-lockout respectively. Unfortunately, a Canuck factors into the top-20 decreases in point-per-game production, Mason Raymond, with a -0.163 drop. At least he doesn’t come close to the “leader” in that category, Ilya Kovalchuk, who has had a -0.271 decrease in points-per-game average over the second half of the season since the lockout. Yikes.
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15 comments

  1. Harrison Mooney
    December 29, 2010

    My only beef with this article is the implication that Kesler gets powerplay points because he's with the Sedins. Kesler is the perfect complement to the twins on the powerplay, because he's bullish where they're overcute. He contributes as much as they do.

    Just like I said in this article.

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  2. Daniel "Skeeter" Wagner
    December 29, 2010

    I understand that and agree, but with the way the Sedins constantly get overlooked in this town, I feel like I need to emphasize that the Sedins are good. I'm not sure why that needs to be re-said again and again and again, but it seems to be the case. As good as Kesler is and has been on the powerplay, he doesn't have 14 powerplay points right now without the Sedins.

    To put it into perspective, he had 12 powerplay goals all of last season. He has 7 already with the Sedins on the first unit.

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  3. Harrison Mooney
    December 29, 2010

    I hear you and agree. The Sedins are good.

    I think one of the reasons Kesler is the subject of frothy hyperbole and the Sedins' superstardom is met with shrugs is simply the way they play.

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  4. Erik
    December 29, 2010

    I think part of it is that people feel the need to latch on to one or two players to help them define a team, and Kesler's play and outgoingness makes him the natural choice among the Canucks.

    I'm actually happy that the Sedins are fine with their success not necessarily bringing them the spotlight, even if the hometown fans don't necessarily give them all the love that they deserve, it's still the Vancouver Canucks, not the Vancouver Keslers. It's that kind of team cohesiveness that is an essential part of their success, and the Sedins will keep tearing it up as they always have.

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  5. Daniel "Skeeter" Wagner
    December 29, 2010

    @Erik

    That's a fair assumption. Kesler embodies many of the attributes that Canucks fans love to see, the gritty, hard-working, lunch pail kind of player akin to Trevor Linden or Stan Smyl. Kesler definitely fits that mold.

    On the other hand, one of the defining aspects of the Canucks throughout the years is their willingness to bring over Europeans, specifically Swedes, dating back to Thomas Gradin and continuing with players like Patrik Sundstrom, Matthias Ohlund, Markus Naslund, and now the Sedins, Edler, and Samuelsson. Then you have the Finns like Petri Skriko, Jyrki Lumme, and Sami Salo. The talented European is as much emblematic of Canuck culture as the blue-collar North Americans like Kurtenbach, Smyl, Linden, and Kesler.

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  6. Erik
    December 29, 2010

    @Skeeter

    You make a great point there for sure. Personally, I'm a great fan of the imports. I've been a big Ohlund fan for years and I was terribly sad to see him go as I had hoped he'd play for the Canucks for his entire career. And currently, Samulesson is one of my favourite Canucks.

    I'd actually argue that in some respects, the European players that the Canucks have had (aside from Bure) represent even more of a blue-collar work ethic simply because they keep doing the job day-in and day-out without really getting the recognition that they deserve.

    Although the players you mentioned have been an integral part of the Canucks teams throughout the years, they've never really, for whatever reason, defined the face of the team like European players have the Detroit Red Wings (possibly excepting Naslund). I'm not sure if it comes down to some sort of natural quietness on the part of the European players (Swedes in particular perhaps?) or some sort of unfair bias on the part of the fanbase.

    I read the article that was posted by you guys a while back that touched on this subject. Long story short, I thought it was an excellent article, but I have to disagree with some of the conclusions. That said, the basic question raised is very valid.

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  7. Anonymous
    December 29, 2010

    "It's especially frustrating to see the Sedins continue to get short shrift despite making their nest among the top five in Western Conference scoring. Of note: 14 of Kesler's 34 points were on the powerplay, where he plays with the Sedins. This is not a coincidence."

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THAAAAAANK YOUU. Finally someone has said it. Kesler is a beast and he can improve even more, which is insane, we all know this. Kes is really shining this year, and you won't find a happier fan than me. But the fact is that already there are people saying things like he's the best player on the team this season, he should have been captain, etc completely ignoring everything the Sedins have done thus far. It's like people have forgotten his early 'slump' because he's been a monster for the past month, while the Sedins have been excellent for the whole season.

    Why is this? Is it the North American-ness? The grittiness? Is he just a better story?

    Have you guys done a post on this you could link me to?

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  8. Daniel "Skeeter" Wagner
    December 29, 2010

    @Anonymous

    Part of it is that the Sedins just aren't sexy. Qris's first ever PITB post dug into this issue, titled, conveniently enough, "Sedins Just Aren't Sexy". Meanwhile, Kesler is on the cover of a video game (as are the Sedins, but only in Sweden), he starred for the US in the Olympics, and he started his own clothing line. He's brash, bold, and dangerous. For the NHL, that's sex appeal. The Sedins are certainly incredible, but they're casually incredible. When they do something amazing, it just seems like another day at the office.

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  9. Qris Johnson
    December 29, 2010

    @ Erik

    What do you mean, "aside from Bure?" Although he was constantly accused of not working hard enough, Bure showed as much dedication and hard work as anyone.

    Look what Dana Murzyn had to say of him: "I never questioned his heart as a teammate at all. I know he always played as hard as he could for us. And I think that people got so spoiled at how good he was that if he didn't have success they thought he wasn't trying."

    Gino Odjick (who had no problem calling Mark Messier out for not trying): "Pavel told me a lot of times that he would have probably been a good NHLer, but working out extremely hard with his dad, six days a week, twice a day, brought him over the edge. It made him a great player."

    Jyrki Lumme: "I played with a lot of other players with great talent. I think the one thing with Pavel, though, is he wanted to score and he'd do anything to score. There are probably some other guys who might have better talent, but he worked so hard. I don't think there's another guy in the league who works as hard as he did."

    Bure had a lot of talent, but just because you're not a checker doesn't mean you don't play with heart. His teammates stressed his dedication as being the centerpiece of his success.

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  10. Anonymous
    December 29, 2010

    Totally OT, but is there any chance you guys are putting together an entry on the whole salary cap conundrum?

    I keep seeing so much misinformation on the topic (often from sources that should be more knowledgeable); I'd love to have a concise and accurate summary of the situation to direct difficult people to. Getting your irreverent and entertaining take on possible moves would be icing on the cake!

    So will you?

    Pretty please?

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  11. Wisp
    December 29, 2010

    I'm just waiting for the checking lines to start coming out against Kesler, leaving the Sedins and Burrows to work alone, and then BAM, Unrestrained Wizardous Sedinery.

    Hockey fans don't give the Sedins enough credit, but that's okay. Kesler does…

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  12. Daniel "Skeeter" Wagner
    December 29, 2010

    I've been trying to sort out the implications of Sami Salo's return off-and-on for the last couple weeks and still haven't been able to sort it out. I'll have another go once I've finished my applications for grad school…

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  13. Erik
    December 29, 2010

    @Qris

    I'm sorry to have given you the wrong impression there, I didn't mean for you to infer that I thought that Bure was a slacker. I certainly wouldn't say that about him, rather that He was known more for his high level of skill and his flashiness, not necessarily his worth ethic, which was certainly there. Bure got a loads of attention and adoration, which was certainly deserved, but can we say that the Sedins are getting similar treatment? That's what I was getting at there.

    BTW, am I the only one who gets mildly irked when people use Geno to refer to Malkin? There's only one Gino, and he's the Algonquin Assassin.

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  14. Qris Johnson
    December 29, 2010

    No, you're not the only one who's irked. They used to call Nabokov that sometimes as well. Is Geno really short for Evgeni?

    And if so, does that mean that the Super Mario RPG character was Russian?

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  15. Erik
    December 29, 2010

    Possibly, we already know that Mario has communist roots

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