|Ryan Kesler vs. Jonathan Toews||Tweet|
|Written by Steve Laidlaw|
|Wednesday, 11 January 2012 20:12|
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Ryan Goddard said:
steve laidlaw said:
steve laidlaw said:
Stephen Kostoff said:
Stephen Kostoff said:
|Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2012 18:21|