A couple of days ago now the Vancouver Canucks signed Ryan Kesler to a six-year deal with a cap hit of five million dollars per season. With this contract on the books, the Canucks have chosen their core group and it's a good one: Sedin, Sedin, Kesler and Luongo are all signed through 2013-14 or later. After the jump I'll take a look at Vancouver's cap situation going forward using my usual model, Kesler in particular and then talk a little bit about the job Mike Gillis has done in Vancouver. Here's the model:
Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0%
Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, Kesler - 17.2M - 30.7%
Middle 6 Forwards - Samuelsson, Bernier, Burrows, ???, ???, ??? - 6.5M - 11.6%
Top 4 Defenders - Bieksa, Salo, Edler, Ehrhoff - 13.6M - 24.3%
Goaltending - Luongo, ??? - 5.333 - 9.5%
Bottom 8 Players - Hordichuk, Rypien, Alberts, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? - 2.375 - 4.2%
With Kesler signed, the Canucks are overspending a bit on their top three forwards, but it's not by much. In fact, the difference for next season is made up completely by spending a bit less than the model of the top four defenders. Luongo's contract leaves them in the same situation. Once a backup is signed, they'll likely end up spending just a bit more than the model allows for but won't have any trouble making up for it in other areas. And the four contracts they've signed should age well with the percentage of cap dollars coming down and giving them more flexibility in future seasons. In addition, they're not tied to most of these guys into their twilight years. The Sedins play the last season on their contracts at age 33. Kesler's last year is age 31. Luongo's is much dicier, ending at age 42. Even the real money doesn't end until age 39. The number looks great for the next few seasons but could really blow up down the line if Luongo ends up dealing with injuries or just has his performance fall. And as a goaltender, there's no where to hide him if his performance falls off. Still, for at least the next several years it should be great and if the Canucks bring him the Cup in the next five seasons, I doubt you'll have too many people complaining about that Luongo contract even if they are dealing with some negatives when Luongo is 39. And who knows, by that time the cap may be such that they can sign someone to tandem with Luongo and have it fit the goaltending budget. Or maybe the rules about re-negotiating contracts will be different. There will probably be two CBA negotiations between now and the end of that deal and it's awfully hard to know what things will be like in ten years.
But this is mostly about Kesler. Having established that the contract makes some sense for the Canucks in their salary structure, it's now time to look at the deal itself and determine whether or not Kesler is worth the money. So far this season Kesler has been taking on some of the toughest competition while also getting a very difficult zone start ratio (261 OZ and 327 DZ) in an effort to really shelter the Sedins. Despite these tough circumstances, Kesler's Corsi rate is a fabulous +10.2 per 60 minutes Although the Sedin-sheltering is a new twist, the Canucks have been using Kesler in a similar way for the last couple of seasons, so it's not as though he's a flash in the pan. His EV offence has been good as he's scoring north of two points per sixty minutes without the benefit of unsustainable percentages (7.0% personal shooting percentage, 7.9% On-ice shooting percentage, and points on 74.4% of his team's goals while on the ice). He's a very impressive EV player.
And he contributes in other areas. He's been one of the Canucks top penalty-killers for the last three seasons and has consistently gotten pretty good results. This season is his best by the numbers (-3.62/60 goal differential) but his usage has been consistent. He's also an excellent FO man, ranking in the league's top 25 in FO percentage each of the last three seasons despite taking many more PK than PP draws. Kesler is also good at drawing penalties, with a differential always above even. This season he's second on the Canucks with a penalty differential of +1.0/60. He also has some talent on the PP where he's accumulated more than five points per sixty minutes each of the last two years. On top of all that he's a physical player and has been very durable over the last three seasons. He had hip surgery in 2007 (and missed the end of the 2006-07 season) but that concern would seem to be clearly behind him. He's just a great, great player.
In my opinion, he's certainly worth the money. He's a lot like some of the other centers in the Northwest division who take the toughest minutes for their teams but - likely because of this role - don't quite score at that elite level. The two poster-boys for this in my view are Shawn Horcoff and Mikko Koivu. Koivu has one year left on a beauty (for the Wild) 3.25M deal which he signed as a young RFA. He'll probably be getting paid on an extension this summer. Horcoff, meanwhile, is signed at 5.5M through 2014-15 which is pretty close in terms of money to what Kesler got. Now, on the one hand, Horcoff was a pending UFA and Kesler an RFA, so it would seem like Kesler's price should have been held down but I don't really buy it. Kesler only had one more year left before he would have been unrestricted, so I'm sure the Canucks felt some of the same pressures to get his name on a long-term deal. There are other significant differences between Kesler and Horcoff that make me think the Canuck is the better player but the most pertinent difference in terms of the deals they signed is age. Horcoff was signed for his age 31 to 36 seasons, Kesler for age 26 to 31. That's just a huge difference. Yesterday, Tyler brought up an old Kesler quote about signing for less money in order to win games ("If we’re going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can’t get what you’re worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker room knows that, and for us to be a great team going forward, we’re going to have to take a pay cut.") The implication I got was that Kesler did not do this with this latest contract. If so, I disagree pretty strongly. In terms of value provided, Kesler is absolutely worth this deal and will almost certainly be able to outplay it provided he remains healthy. I'm also very confident that if he decided to play out his last year with the Canucks and go UFA (or take a second offer sheet) that he could have earned more money.
As for Mike Gillis, he's done a good job of maintenance since getting to Vancouver but Dave Nonis must be just plain pissed that this guy is getting a fair amount of credit for signing reasonable deals with a bunch of players that Nonis and Brian Burke brought together. The pure Gillis plays? Sundin, Demitra, Samuellson, Wellwood, Bernier. The only one that's worked out is Samuellson and I'm inclined to think there's some luck in seeing a 33 year-old player blow away his career best totals (14.3%, the second time in eight seasons he's been over 10%) . But credit where due, that one seems to be working out well. Still, a lot of these deals haven't really helped. I guess I'm saying that Gillis has done a really good job of controlling costs on current talent but has had a hard time acquiring effective new talent consistently. At this point, that's what he really needs to do to make the Canucks better. If you're a Canucks fan, you can only hope that he's better at it than he's shown so far.