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The Blackhawks-Canucks rivalry is truly a thing to behold. Over the past three seasons no two teams have faced off against one another in the playoffs as much as these two have. The result is a familiarity that breeds tight-checking, hard-hitting action even in regular season contests and yet, the Blackhawks and Canucks are among two of the most skilled teams in the league so in the midst of their tightly contested matches there is plenty of skill, speed and creativity on display.

 

The two teams demonstrate a level of one-upsmanship that results in some of the best hockey you will see, no matter the contest. Regular season matches play out like playoff games, playoff games play out like game sevens and game sevens play out like a mythological battle between Gods and Titans.

 

It is of no surprise then that this week’s Cage Match is one of epic proportions. It is a match up between two of the best two-way centermen in the game; one is a Blackhawk and one is a Canuck. I sincerely hope that build up didn’t make you pull a Luongo and poop your pants because it is Ryan Kesler vs. Jonathan Toews!

 

Both Kesler and Toews have been around long enough that a comparison of their stats over the previous three years holds a lot of merit so let us check the tale of the tape:

 

 

GP

Goals

Assists

Plus/Minus

PPP

PIM

SOG

Toews

79.3

30.3

40.7

Plus-19.7

23

41.3

210

Kesler

82

30.7

38.3

Plus-11

24.7

77

217.7

 

The first thing to note is that both of these guys are gamers. There may be no two fiercer competitors in the game than Toews or Kesler so keeping them out of the line up is next to impossible.

 

Both goals and assists have been virtually a wash over these past three years, as have PPP and SOG although both have slightly favoured Kesler. The only really differences there have been are in plus/minus and PIM. Toews has been and will likely remain the stronger plus/minus player. He has never been a minus player in his entire career and I am not sure he is capable of it. Kesler is a fantastic defensive player as well but Toews can simply do no wrong here.

 

On the flipside, Kesler is dominant in PIM. Toews cannot touch him here. In fact, Toews PIM production is on the down swing. He is a captain and now in his fifth NHL season he is figuring out that he cannot help his team from the penalty box. He could eventually contend for a Lady Byng one day. Kesler on the other hand is showing few signs of slowing down in the PIM department.

 

If these three-year averages were the only thing to consider you would basically have to analyze team needs to decide which of these two you would prefer. Things are not so cut and dry however.

 

Toews is four years younger than Kesler and arguably still developing his game. It stands to reason that he has loads of untapped offensive potential. Take a look at a comparison of their stats so far this season:

 

 

GP

Goals

Assists

Plus/Minus

PPP

PIM

SOG

Toews

41

22

19

Plus-13

10

12

129

Kesler

38

11

19

Plus-11

14

34

108

 

Toews’ production is way up this year. He is on pace for 44 goals and 258 SOG. He is shooting way more than before, which is a continuing trend for Toews. He has shot more every season he has been in the league. It is worth mentioning that his shooting percentage is above average at 17.1% but it is not so much higher than his career average of 15.2% that he cannot sustain this rate of production. Expect his goal pace to simmer but he is proving that 40 goals is a real possibility.

 

Conversely, Kesler’s shooting and scoring is way down. He is on pace for just 22 goals and 219 SOG. This is for two reasons. The first is that Kesler overachieved last season. It is true that Kesler has worked hard to make his shot a strength but he shot a career high 260 SOG and scored on a career high 15.8% of shots so he was due for a regression.

 

The second reason is that as it turns out, Kesler does not actually have the body of a greek god. Gods are impervious to injuriy but Kesler missed the first few games this season while recovering from hip surgery and took some time after his return to the line up to really get things going. Through his first 14 games this season Kesler managed just two goals and seven points. Since then Kesler has scored nine goals and 23 points through 24 games. If he can maintain that pace for the remainder of the season he’ll finish with a respectable 26 goals and 67 points in 77 games.

 

At 27 years old, Kesler has likely reached his peak as a player. Toews however, at only 23, has more room for growth. So it appears that Toews is taking control of the goal and SOG categories with some room for more but this is not yet conclusive. This growth potential also does not give Toews control across the board.

 

Despite missing time and struggling early, Kesler did not slow down in the assist department. What’s more his power play production is still well on track. Playing with the Sedins affords you the advantage of still producing while not at 100%.

 

Kesler only plays with the Sedins sparingly at even strength but he absolutely lives beside them on the power play and has done so for the past season and a half. Kesler averages just over 19 minutes per game, nearly four of which come on the power play and two of which come on the penalty kill. As Frozenpool will show us, most of his even strength shifts are with some combination of Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond or David Booth. These are not the most appealing of linemates but they have shown a great deal of chemistry together.

 

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Toews similarly does not receive the best of linemates. As Frozenpool will show us, this season he has seen a smattering of different linemates but a majority of his time has been spent with one or both of Andrew Brunette and Victor Stalberg.

 

fp

 

Like Kesler, however, Toews receives his best linemates on the power play. Toews always gets to skate with the Blackhawks’ big guns – Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp – on the power play. He averages around 21 minutes per game of which almost four come on the power play and around two come on the penalty kill.

 

Toews and Kesler receive similar ice time but their production splits are drastically different. Despite the quality of weapons on their team the Blackhawks have one of the worst power plays in the NHL. Conversely, the Canucks’ power play is one of the best. This means that Kesler will have an advantage in PPP so long as the Sedins are around. Even when the Blackhawks’ power play was productive last season Toews could not match Kesler’s power play production. So assists are a wash and PPP go to Kesler by a slim margin.

 

That scores this Cage Match a slim 3-2 victory for Jonathan Toews, however I firmly believe that over the next couple of seasons this Cage Match is actually a wash. Toews does really appear to have goals on lockdown but SOG is far from conclusive. Kesler is closing the gap in that category as he has shaken off the rust. Add to that the fact that as long as the Canucks are dominant Kesler will boast very similar plus/minus figures and suddenly things get very close. You should likely still favour Toews because goals should really count for more than PIM but categorically speaking this looks to be more of a straight split.

 

Long term is an entirely different story though. The Sedins are already into their thirties and will not be productive forever. Kesler is a fine player but a good deal of his production is dependant on the Sedins. Not only do they boost his production on the power play but by taking on the opponents’ top checkers they often create more favourable match ups for Kesler at even strength.

 

Now consider that Toews still has some growth potential. Do not go bananas over his upside. The fact he is the best faceoff man in the game and one of the best two-way centermen in the game means that he often gets unfavourable zone starts and line match ups. He will always be counted on as a defensive player and that limits his high end production. Still the core in Chicago is much younger than in Vancouver. Both Sharp and Kane are on the right side of 30. That means Toews stands to have elite teammates much longer than Kesler. Long term, there is no question I prefer Toews. Short term, it is much closer but roll with Toews by a hair.

 


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Austin said:

austeane
... Ryan
I think that the reason Kes hasn't been with the Sedins is that they "gotta balance out the attack". In a couple of years Hodgson should be good enough that it won't be necessary. And he is more of a one man wrecking crew then a catalyst at some points but I agree. Higgins played better on the third line then with Kesler and Raymond.


Steve.
I think I will have to bookmark this one for the end of the season.
As far as numbers go you have me beat. I am too cheap to buy frozen pool... I am not ready to start paying for my fantasy hockey fun... It is just a mental leap from hobby to something more haha.
I would like to know who Kesler played with last year. I am also incredibly surprised at the lack of production with Booth and Higgins!!! Thats where watching the games isn't enough. They were qualitatively dominant. What about just Kesler with Booth and anyone else?
My point WAS that even though they aren't allstars they are a relative improvement in almost every way from his previous line-mates.
That has been disproven at least quantitatively haha.
Yes Toews has some crappy linemates and does have a chance of getting better ones if they go through a team slump.

I don't usually "ever" love a player.. I am a Canucks fan but my favorite players aren't Canucks. I don't usually "love" a player fantasy wise unless I perceive a huge gap with perceived and real value (the last couple of years I have had a total of two fantasy "crushes"... Edler and Malkin and both are paying off). My favorite player might be Wellwood.. Dont ask me why haha (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIRqAkqaYUo).
Having said all that... I think Hodgson is turning into one of those players for me. I honestly think that he has as good a shot as RNH of being a 90 point player in this league. Nothing to base that off other then his incredible production versus ice time and the fact that he produces a chance every time he gets the puck and almost never gets the puck haha. The point of that almost useless ramble is that I would bet large amounts of money that Hodgson will be a top line center within 2 years. On the Canucks that might mean #2 center in the same way that Kesler is a top line center. If the Canucks keep him and I think they will, he will force his way to the #2 center spot. That is what I am banking on for Kesler to be moved up and Burrows to be moved down with Hodgson.

I don't expect any insane market correction from either player and I completely agree with you that it is reasonable to expect the same results going forward; I said that at the bottom of my post. Because I (irrationally) think that being reunited with Booth will help Kesler more then the numbers suggest I personally would project Kesler to finish with something like ~18 goals and ~38 points. I think we are pretty much understanding of each other now haha... I am bookmarking this for later.
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

Ryan Goddard said:

ridinryan44
Toews > kes Has Burrows gone somewhere? Vancouver won't ever put Kesler on he same line as the twins. Gotta balance out the attack. You are right, though, Kesler doesn't need high end talent to produce. He's a catalyst. If he ever lines up at RW again it will be with Hodgson as his center. Burrows will be re-signed, that I can guarantee. No one has fit better with the Sedin's than him.

And tr only format I'd ever consider taking kes before Toews in is one that counts hits.
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

steve laidlaw said:

metaldude26
... Austin, seriously thanks for the comments. You've got me thinking deep about this.

I still don’t see your point about linemates. Are you arguing that Booth-Higgins can elevate Kesler to new heights? Because I’ve twice now acknowledged the good chemistry between Kesler, Higgins and Booth. I’m not disagreeing with you. But these guys are not top notch linemates but it works. If he did have elite linemates though, that’s what could push him over the top. I’d like to see a full year of Kesler-Higgins-Booth before I jump out and call them amazing. That combination rewarded Kesler with exactly three points while Booth was healthy. Three points in 19 games is not amazing. There are numerous reasons to point to why this is the case but all those are just excuses. I like the line, I don’t love it. I’m not ready to call Higgins and Booth the “booster juice” that Kesler needs to get back to 40 goals or crest 80 points. Neither one of Higgins or Booth has proven that they have any ability to play with consistency in their career and that’s an obvious hurdle. The point I make with regard to Higgins and Booth is they are good players with good chemistry, they aren’t taking anything off the table but until we see them not only play well together for a long stretch but also have that play translate into production we cannot simply assume that this is going to consistently be a highly productive line.

More importantly however, the major point about linemates is that Toews has crappy ones as well. You can’t give either one an advantage based on who they play with. Neither one is losing for having played with bad linemates but until you see them lining up consistently with someone who will boost them you can’t really argue an advantage.

Kesler with the Sedins long term, I mean you have a decent argument but it’s far from foolproof and you are looking at this happening in what, two years time? You hanging your hat on that? So much could change between now and then. Hodgson is a rookie, he could easily figure out the wing by then. What happens to Burrows? What if the Canucks sign someone? What if Kesler-Higgins-Booth is as amazing as you say and they don’t dare blowing it up?

Regarding my projection, allow me to further explain. I have him down for ~14 goals and ~37 points is what I have Kesler getting over those final 39 games (although I guess it is 38 now). That puts him on line for 30 goals and 78 points over a full 82 game season. The problem is he basically lost 19 games that he can’t get back. If you are expecting him to do better than Toews then you are counting on both a significant drop in Toews’ production and for Kesler to some how produce well above a pace that you yourself have said he’s capable of to accomplish some sort of super-reversion to the mean to make up for his struggles early in the season. That is the gambler’s fallacy and is not something you should count on.

A reasonable estimate is to say that they’ll be very close over the long haul as I have. If you assume some reversion to the mean for Toews (meaning he is reverting to last year’s numbers) then you can use his numbers from last season to project his pace for the remainder of the season. That pegs Toews for ~16 goals and ~37 points over his final 39 games, which is pretty much exactly what you’ll get out of Kesler. Expecting more regression from Toews would be a gambler’s fallacy and expecting more production out of Kesler would also be. The most reasonable projection is a tie or close to. Maybe Kesler goes for two more goals and three more points on his projection and maybe Toews goes low by similar amounts. That would create a significant difference in production but is that because you were “smart” or because you were lucky?
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

Austin said:

austeane
Disagreeing with disagreements on my disagreements. The first point was a joke on a joke... I guess it took away from the subtly of it so sorry.

Second, I disagree on the linemates thing a bit. The only time Kesler had any chemistry with decent linemates has been with Raymond and Samuelson and there was a reason that it was called the "Helicopter line". They were just along for the ride. Even with bad (or no chemistry) linemates at even strength he got good EV numbers and obviously great PP numbers last year. This year Higgins-Kesler-Booth has been amazing. If Kesler got 70 points with bad linemates or bad chemistry he should be able to up his pace or at least return to 30-35 goals with good linemates and chemistry. Also if you live by the sword you die by the sword. The reason that Kesler can get 70 points with bad linemates and could get 80 points with good linemates is that the Sedins will always take up most of the top pairings time. It doesn't matter if he isn't lining up with allstars nightly if he isn't facing allstars nightly.

You have a point... Deep playoff runs could wear them down with the shorter summers.

I actually missed a section... Oops! When commenting on an article it helps if you read the whole thingsmilies/grin.gif. I only saw the greek god part and then a part about 22 goals. Didn't see the 26 goal projection. (I still think that he will have better second half numbers then Toews).

And the reason that I think Kesler will end up with the Sedins is twofold. Kesler has played and succeeded at RW before with Sundin. Hodgson has shown that he is a much better center then he is winger. Also, Kesler plays like the perfect compliment for the Sedins and has shown this to be the case on the powerplay. He doesn't (as is the popular belief) just stand in front of the net like a pylon. He can cycle and is good rushing the puck in and forechecking when he has the opportunity. He has a good right handed shot and is smart enough for the Sedins. Hodgson is too close to a carbon copy of the Sedins and I have doubts about how he would do there.

I don't fully agree or disagree with the conclusion.. I think that it is an even split or a slight edge to Kesler for the rest of the year. For the next two years I think it is an even split possibly leaning towards Kesler. The year after that I would say that it would lean to Toews. After that it is undoubtably Toews. So I basically agree with you haha I just like to play devil's advocate sometimes. That doesn't mean that I make things up to argue... It just means I will argue the finer points that I disagree with even if I basically agree with the whole.
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

steve laidlaw said:

metaldude26
... Austin, I disagree with most of your disagreements. Not that they aren’t valid points but rather they are addressed in the article.

First, my point about Kesler was a subtle shot at his magazine spread and the fact his teammates said he thought he had the body of a greek god. I didn’t follow your link but I imagine that it was to that. Now the joke isn’t funny because I had to explain it. Dang!

Second, my point about linemates is that they are not ideal but I do mention the great chemistry so I’m not sure what your quibble is. Kesler is not lining up with all-stars on a nightly basis and regardless of chemistry that does have an impact over the length of a season.

Third, I actually disagree with the future you laid out for the Canucks. The Sedins are most certainly capable of staying healthy and above a point per game but let’s see what a couple more deep playoff runs do to them. You yourself have them pegged for a decline from their production in the nineties and that will have a ripple effect throughout the line up.

Also, you have Hodgson pegged as ready to produce in a couple of years. Do you really think that the Canucks would waste Kesler’s two-way play and faceoff dominance on the top line RW when they can put Hodgson there instead?

Maybe they put Kesler and Hodgson together and find a different teammate altogether to play with the Sedins.

However it shakes out, I would bet against Kesler being planted full time with the Sedins as you’ve lain out.

I also think that I addressed your quibble about goal scoring in the article. I discuss not only how Kesler overachieved last year but also how he struggled in the first half of this year because of his hip injury. I discuss how if you factor in his recent play that his pace should increase. If you look at his historical shooting percentage and SOG 30 goals is actually the perfect number of goals for him if he were healthy for a full season but the fact is he wasn’t this year. He missed essentially a quarter of the season. He was actually out for five games and then struggled for the next 14 so that’s 19 games down the tubes. That’s why his scoring projection remains low at 26, which is not completely off 30 anyhow.
I guess I’m just curious about all these caveats. You never actually disagreed with the conclusion but had all these quibbles that I feel were fairly addressed in the article. Did you actually disagree with the conclusion or just need some clarification regarding these points.

If you actually disagreed with the conclusion I think my man Stephen Kostoff has said it best; talent trumps situation.
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

Stephen Kostoff said:

SK47
... I think 85-90 point Sedins is a very different animal and point boost to Kesler than the current 100-110 point sedins...

My concern has always been with Kesler is what if he gets taken off that powerplay unit. Bye Bye production.

Talent trumps situation in my eyes. Toews all the way for me
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

Stephen Kostoff said:

SK47
... I made this exact trade one for one in the off-season........ I haven't read the article yet, but I hope you see it in my favor smilies/smiley.gifsmilies/grin.gif
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

Austin said:

austeane
Great article I agree with most of what you said with a couple of caveats.

First and most important: "The second reason is that as it turns out, Kesler does not actually have the body of a greek god."
http://www.vancitybuzz.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Screen-Shot-2011-10-05-at-8.12.58-AM-e1317827728181.png

Second: Kesler's linemates are pretty great with him. Take a look at the stats when Booth was healthy and the American Express was united Higgins-Kesler-Booth are deadly together and were more dominant than the Sedins on some nights and overall were about as good.

I also disagree with the future of the Canucks. The Sedins should continue at ~85-90 points a season until they are at least 35. For better or for worse they have avoided contact their whole careers and barely ever get crushed and never hit anyone hard. If one had to bet on one (two) NHL players who are in their early thirties performing at a high level into their 40's it would be the Sedins. Speed isn't part of their game; their hands will still be there and their hockey sense get better if anything.

By that time Hodgson will probably be established in the league as a 70 point player so the Lines will likely be
Sedin-Sedin-Kesler
Jensen-Hodgson-?
By 2014-15 (the first year you could reasonably expect the Sedins to dip below a PPG pace. The points will still be flowing from the back end as Edler is young and Bieksa/Hamhuis are locked up. A high-ceiling offensive Dman named Connauton also has a shot of being a contributer by then.

I personally think that reasonable projection has the transition from the Sedin era set up smoothly by Gillis. I don't expect them to be top 2 in their conference (15 or 8 team) every year in the next decade or anything crazy like that but they won't fall off a cliff.

Also, Kesler did overachieve last year but he is underachieving this year. 30 goals is a likely number for him. 40 was high and 22 is unsustainably low. The numbers don't objectively back it up as Kesler has a PDO of around 1000 (1026 to be exact) but that can be explained by the ton of wrist shots he releases when frustrated that are relatively easy for goalies to smother. Going forward I expect Kesler to have a better second half and future assuming his linemates can stay healthy.
January 12, 2012
Votes: +0

mounD said:

mounD
... Great article, Steve. An enjoyable and informative read as always. smilies/cool.gif
January 11, 2012
Votes: +0
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