Much like almost every Canucks fan in the city, I’m intrigued as to what type of reception Ryan Kesler will receive from the crowd at Rogers Arena tonight.
Ryan Kesler makes his much-anticipated return to Vancouver tonight as the visiting Anaheim Ducks battle the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Pacific Division. I will be attending the game and I don’t even know how I’m going to react to good old RK17. I truly could go either way. Here’s why:
When he’s on top of his game, Kesler is an extremely effective two-way centre. He amassed 75 points in 2009-2010 and 73 points in 2010-2011, a season in which he won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward. During the Canucks’ 2011 Stanley Cup run, he put the team on his back and carried them through the second round of the playoffs against the Nashville Predators with 11 points in six games.
He’s a strong and powerful skater, and he plays with an edge. He’s a good penalty killer and good in the faceoff dot. He’s ultra-competitive, hard-working and aggressive. And he has actually been quite durable, taking away his injury-shortened 2012-2013 season, since 2007-2008 he’s played in 80, 82, 82, 82, 77, and 77 games, respectively.
During his eleven years in the organization, he rarely took a night off and left everything out on the ice. More often than not, you were thankful he was on your team and not playing for the opposition.
Kesler demanded a trade from the Canucks in the summer, confirming a desire that was rumoured to had started at the 2014 Winter Olympics. In waiving his no-trade clause for effectively only one team, Kesler hamstrung the club and pressured them into making a deal that guaranteed he wound up in Anaheim.
The Canucks faithful took it as a kick to its collective nether region. Fans couldn’t fathom why someone would want to leave. And they were still getting over the fact that goaltender Roberto Luongo had been dealt just a few months prior.
Thankfully, Nick Bonino – the primary player coming this way in the trade – has performed spectacularly to start the season, and Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett are serviceable roster players. And there’s optimism around prospect Jared McCann.
Kesler did a lot for the local community and was generous with his time and energy…especially in lending his name and persona to important initiatives. He was front and centre in the You Can Play Project in promoting respect for all athletes regardless of sexual orientation.
Also, he appeared in the “Love Doesn’t Hurt” PSAs aimed at breaking the silence on children’s exposure to violence against women for the BC Society of Transition Houses.
Despite what I just said above about his generosity with his time and energy, Kesler often came across as immature and brooding. This manifested itself most often in interviews especially if he and/or the team weren’t playing well. There are also numerous stories and rumours of how miserable a person he could be, including this gem that Jason Botchford shared with me on a recent Canucks Hockey Blog podcast (fast forward to the 42-minute mark).
As well, I have a nephew who served Kesler and his teammates at summer golf tourney a few years ago. He told me that by far and away, Kesler was the rudest and most immature guy there. Doesn’t seem surprising.
Kesler wasn’t afraid to have fun once in a while. We can all remember the season that he tried to photobomb the rest of his teammates during interviews. Or how about the time that he bagged groceries at a North Vancouver Save-On-Foods. Or interrupted someone’s pelvic exam to inform him that he’d been selected to drop the puck for a ceremonial face off at the Canucks season opener.
And then there’s the time that he invited everyone in Vancouver to meet under the Cambie Street Bridge for a game of street hockey with Kevin Bieksa as part of a TSN Cabbie Presents feature.
Kesler also had the reputation of being selfish and not the best teammate. There’s a reason why his second line was often referred to as the helicopter line (ie. no wings) as he had a shoot-first, pass-never mentality. He bristled whenever Alain Vigneault moved him to the wing and got into it a couple of times in the media over his playing style and production.
There’s also the fact that his Canucks teammates voted to take away his title of alternate captain before the 2013-2014 season. In a sport where the respect of your peers is tantamount, this move was a clear indication of his leadership abilities or lack thereof.
So what’s the conclusion? I’m not really sure. I don’t plan to over-think it. Rather, I will go with the flow and let my genuine emotion dictate my reaction.
I have a hunch which way I will end up leaning though.
What are you going to do with Ryan Kesler: cheer him or jeer him?