As was often the case in Vancouver, Ryan Kesler’s mouth got a lot of the attention on game day.
Kesler: "I'm still shocked I get booed here."
— Josh Clipperton (@JClipperton_CP) February 18, 2016
There are two ways to approach this. One, that Kesler was just trolling people. After all, he had a solid period of pizza bombing team mates back in 2011, he enjoyed saying hi to Kelly, and he also claimed a lone goal in a regular season loss while with the Ducks was his “favorite” goal at Rogers Arena. Being antagonistic has always been a staple of Kesler’s game, and he is in fact quite good at it. Love him or hate him, he does bring an extra bit of spice to any big show down.
And while Kesler was sporting a sly grin as he delivered his “shocking” statement, he went on to explain how he grew up in Vancouver as a young man, and spent 11 years here. Perhaps behind the joke lied some truth.
If you remove Kesler out of the equation and simply ask “Would you be bothered by a city you grew up in boo-ing you upon your return” you can of course see where he’s coming from.
The problem, of course, lies in the context.
You see, Ryan Kesler plays a bit like a…well, like an a-hole. It’s just how he chooses to play the game. Maybe it keeps him focused, maybe it brings out the best in him. But when he’s on the ice, he’s no stranger to chirping the other team or taking advantageous runs at other players. Just tonight he was seen waving at Virtanen on the other bench after Jake appeared to have hurt his shoulder in a collision eariler with Kesler.
And give him full credit. He was a great player in Vancouver, and he is still a great player today. There is nothing wrong playing with an edge like Kesler does. You just have to remember, live by the sword, die by the sword. It makes players like him detested in every other city, except the one he plays in.
Which is why one of the most common refrains heard about Kesler was “Yeah, sure, he’s an a-hole, but he’s OUR a-hole.” For all the accusations of diving, for all the accusations of taunting, for all the accusations of cheap hits, Vancouver fans defended him. They defended him because that wasn’t the only aspect of his game. They defended him because Kesler laid his body on the line for the team. They defended him because he was ours.
This created a deep emotional bond with Kesler. Not only was he a top 2nd line center in the league, but that series against Nashville in 2011 was enough for people to view him as a hero. The city worshiped Kesler like few others before him because of that Stanley Cup run. That’s just how sports works. You could be an average player, but have a big moment in the playoffs, and your status gets elevated noticeably. If the Canucks win the Cup in 2011, Jeff Tambellini gets free beer for life simply for his back check on Martin Erat.
If you have an extended run of excellence in sports, though? You become a deity. And occasionally invited back to become the team President. Maybe you get a chain of gyms. Lots of doors open for you.
Hell, Kesler tore his body up in 2011, yet there he was, tying the game up against San Jose in the dying seconds of game five, essentially on one leg.
That’s the kind of thing that only happens to John Scott, the kind of thing you can make a movie about. Big play on the biggest stage? If the Canucks win in 2011, forget free beer, Ryan Kesler would have been given the key to the city.
Then the Canucks started to fade from relevance. And with that relevance fading away, so too did Kesler’s desire to play in Vancouver. Then came the whispers of him demanding a trade while at a bar in Russia during the Olympics. Trade demands he refuted. Which went at odds against his statement after he wasn’t traded at the 2014 deadline.
“Good thing I listened to Lou,” Kesler told The Province. “He told me whether I wanted out or not, I was going to be here at the end of the day. Funny how things work out.”
There was the Ryan Kesler we knew, except this time he wasn’t blasting another team. Now he had turned his sights on Vancouver.
This all led up to Kesler reportedly demanding he be traded to one of only three teams, Anaheim, Pittsburgh or Chicago.
The return, of course, was Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, 24th overall pick (Jared McCann) and a swapping of 3rd rounders.
And while the trade was initially hated by many around the league, it has since looked better that originally thought. Unfortunately, Kesler “handcuffing” the team was the lasting memory of this deal, and was the final nail in his coffin for Vancouver fans. Of course, Kesler was only utilizing a right that was handed to him by Mike Gillis (the No Trade Clause), but the way it ended in Vancouver, it was ugly. It was like a bad break up.
All of a sudden you had Ryan Kesler smiling and talking about how happy he was to be in the sunshine of Anaheim. All of a sudden the perennially grumpy Kesler, a man who looked like he’d rather choose death than do another media scrum, was doing videos for the Anaheim PR department. Smiling and laughing away, talking about how excited he was to be on a team that would be competing for a Stanley Cup.
This is why Vancouver boos Ryan Kesler. It’s like being dumped by your significant other, then watching them talk about how much more they enjoy life now that you’re gone. Even worse, it’s like being dumped by your significant other and you have to get updates on TMZ about how they’re dating a famous Hollywood star and life couldn’t be better, and oh would you look at that, it’s so hard to try and co-ordinate their clothes with their new matte black Lamborghini.
The reason people boo Kesler is because he was such a big part of that 2011 core, the best Canucks team of all time. Deep down, people know he went to war for this city. That’s why they boo in the first place, because of that emotional attachment. You think people would boo Tanner Glass if he had demanded a trade? Hell no. People would have called up Brian Burke on Uber and asked him to give a ride to Glass to the airport.
The city spent years defending him, though, and it supported him 100%. Some people wanted him to be named captain instead of Henrik, based purely out of respect for Kesler’s desire to win. So to see his antics being used against the city he grew up in? Well, that’s going to cement you as a villain, no matter who you are.
At the end of the day, you can see where Kesler is coming from on one aspect. He wants to win. He will do anything to win the Stanley Cup, even including demanding a trade from the city he grew up in. That very same drive that caused him to put the team on his back in 2011 also caused him to boot it out the door in 2014. Just look at the other end of the scale and you have Shane Doan, a man who gets made fun of for never chasing the dream and insisting he stay in Phoenix. Maybe you can never win.
The difference, of course, is Kesler’s mouth. It was never going to be an easy break up in Vancouver. It’s just not in his DNA to go quietly into that good night.
So yes, Ryan Kesler is not a unique snowflake. People in Vancouver will not support and cheer him on no matter where he plays, despite what he may or may not have hoped for. This is sports, after all, there is basic human psychology at play; Us vs them. Ryan Kesler is “them” now, and rather emphatically so. This is why people boo.
His mouth wouldn’t have had it any other way.