The Anaheim Ducks were already considered to be a threat in the Western Conference during the 2013-14 season. They finished with a conference best 116 points, just one point behind the Presidents Trophy-winning Boston Bruins. The Ducks defeated the Dallas Stars in six games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but fell to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games during the second round.
With the acquisition of Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks (via a trade that sent Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa to the Canucks) the Anaheim Ducks go from a threat in the west, to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Very few teams in the NHL next season will have the one-two punch down the middle the Ducks will have with Ryan Getzlaf and Kesler.
Obviously, as a coach, you’re sitting there saying ‘That’s a great deal.’ I loved Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa, but you’re getting a top-flight guy that can give Ryan Getzlaf a rest every now and then. It gives you strength down the middle. I’ve never coached a team in the NHL that’s had a second-line center that you’re going to have with Ryan Kesler. It’s a great acquisition, and it gets you excited. In the last couple of years, we thought we were a threat. This makes us a bona fide threat to become an elite team.
With the Canucks last season, Kesler 25 goals and 18 assists (43 points) and posted a 52.4 CF% (+1.7 RelCF%). As a team during 2013-14, the Anaheim Ducks ranked 17th overall in the league with a 50.0 CF%. Kesler will be utilized on the Anaheim Ducks power play, a role he took on with the Canucks. During the 2013-14 season, Kesler’s PPTOI% (the percentage of the team’s power play time the player is on the ice for) was 65.9%, a .8% increase over the 2013 lockout shortened season, and a 3.0% increase over 2011-12.
Despite their considerable arsenal of offensive weapons last season, the Ducks power play finished 22nd overall at 16%. With the addition of Kesler, as well as Dany Heatley, the Ducks are hoping the experience the two veterans can provide to the Ducks man advantage can help boost that number in 2014-15.
It is now undeniable that the Ducks have a lineup that can stand up to the competition in the Western Conference. With the Los Angeles Kings fighting the Stanley Cup hangover, the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in a rebuild, and the Arizona Coyotes still trying to piece together their lineup, the Anaheim Ducks are the current favorite in the Pacific Division, if not the entire Western Conference (though the Chicago Blackhawks also seem to be going all in on the 2014-15 season).
If Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks are buying into Ryan Kesler, it appears that the feeling is mutual. Speaking prior to throwing out the first pitch at an Angels game back on July 9th, Kesler spoke frankly about his former team and how he feels about playing for the Ducks:
I hate losing and that season was painful, to be honest. The fact (the Canucks) are in a rebuild and are looking to get younger and are years away from being a contender, I think it was just time for me to move on and, you know, win and hopefully take home a championship.
A team cannot rely on one player to become a Stanley Cup contender, but by adding Kesler to an already successful cast of characters, the Anaheim Ducks go from a team that can make a run during the playoffs to a team that can be considered a favorite to represent the Western Conference in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.