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Game #29 – Hawks vs. Ducks Spotlight: The Worst Contract In The League?

We’re not writing this through cramp-causing giggling. Honestly, we’re not (we so are).

Ryan Kesler has been, or had been, perhaps the main Hawks foil for years. Starting in 2009, when Andrew Ladd broke his jaw, and continuing for another six seasons, no one drew the ire of Hawks players and fans more than Kesler. He was Lex Luthor. He was The Joker. He was the boogeyman. His clashes with Jonathan Toews verged on Shakespearian. And he did it with two teams, taking his King Asshat Act down the coast from Vancouver to Anaheim.

He kicked off fights, brawls, sparring in the media. frothing in the crowd. Kesler harkened back to an age in the sport where there were true heels that made you think if there wasn’t glass separating the crowd from the players, he very well may have been attacked by a baying throng all carrying Old Styles.

And Kesler couldn’t have produced that kind of emotion if he couldn’t play. There was a time when he was a dominant player. He scored over 70 points twice, if you forgot. He potted over 20 goals in nine of ten seasons, and the one he didn’t he was hurt. There was no better checking center, and it was Kesler who really did the heavy lifting for both Henrik Sedin and Ryan Getzlaf as they decided to be wallflowers in the destructive dance of the playoffs.

But it was clear that Kesler’s style couldn’t last. It was far too physical, far too in the muck, and when his body started breaking down, it wouldn’t stop. And so it has proven.

That didn’t stop Bob Murray in his infinite wisdom from handing Kesler a six-year extension that didn’t kick in until last year when he was already 33. And now you wonder if it isn’t the absolute worst value there is.

Kesler’s cap-hit is $6.8M, which is the 48th-highest in the league (tied with Brent Seabrook for a chilling bit of symmetry). Kesler put up .31 points per game last year, and is at .23 this year. Looking at the names above him on the cap-hit list, the only names that jump out that you could argue are Seabrook, Dion Phaneuf, and Bobby Ryan. But Ryan is younger, and at least averaged 0.5 points per game last year, though both he and Kesler missed big chunks of time with injury. Neither is anywhere near a guarantee to suit up for most of the games on the slate now.

Phaneuf is trash, but his deal was signed five years ago. It was a bad deal then, mind, but that’s the neighborhood Kesler lives in (along with Seabrook). Somehow, Kesler only makes a shade less than Patrice Bergeron, whom Kesler’s agent assuredly used as a comparison and Murray somehow bought it.

There wouldn’t seem to be any way out of it. Kesler isn’t going to retire and leave $20M on the table. He has a full no-trade until the last year of the deal, but there aren’t going to be any suitors who come sprinting when the Ducks hang a “Must Go” sign on him. His actual salary remains rigid throughout, so there’s no out for the Ducks that way.

His injury history might give the Ducks an out, where they can LTIR him into the abyss if his physical condition doesn’t allow him to play in the next three years. But Kesler would have to agree to that, and he doesn’t seem like the type.

The Ducks have some problems on the horizon, as Jakob Silfverberg goes UFA after this season and Brandon Montour RFA the summer after that. They should just about be able to keep everyone, but that’s keeping everyone on a team on pace to give up a record number of shots and chances against this season and only being bailed out by their goalie. Where’s the addition?

If you need something to cling to in this winter of discontent for the Hawks, know that Kesler lost all the fights. He didn’t get a Cup. His words always ended up on a plate for his dinner. Save 2011, the Hawks always got the better of his team. He became an anchor to his team for now and the future. And it won’t get any better. That should do it.


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