Ryan Kesler – 30M for 6 years – worth it?

The Vancouver Canucks and Ryan Kesler have agreed to a 6-year deal worth 30 million dollars. The former first round pick has been on a roll this season with 66 points in 71 games but is he really worth 5 million a year?

At this point in the season, Kesler is the 22nd highest scorer in the NHL after finishing 67th last year. More importantly, Kesler is the most used forward on the Canucks with 19:49 of ice time per game including 2:40 on the penalty kill. In each of the past four seasons, Kesler has been his team’s top penalty killer.

Ryan Kesler would have been a restricted free agent at the end of the season but he was only one-year away from unrestricted free agency. Because of that it is pretty fair to compare Kesler with other NHL players, something we couldn’t do if he was 3 or 4 years away from his UFA status. A top 25 scorer (like Kesler is this year) who is his team’s top penalty killing forward should in theory get paid amongst the top 15-20 forwards. This would mean that Kesler is worth about 6.5 million a year.

The one thing that drops Kesler’s value however is that the 2009-10 season is his first very good offensive season as he had only recorded 96 points in the two previous years. If he continues to play like he is this year, Ryan Kesler is worth much more than 5 million per year but the Canucks are probably expecting him to score 60 points a year and play well defensively. Overall, I think this is a very fair deal.

This deal will certainly be used as a point of comparison in negotiations between Tomas Plekanec an the Montreal Canadiens. So far this season, the two players have almost identical statistics: 21 goals and 45 assists for Kesler while Plekanec has 21 goals and 44 assists. Over the past three seasons, the Montreal Canadiens forward has 173 points including 70 goals while the 26-year old American has 142 points including 68 goals. The two players are therefore very similar offensively with possibly a small edge going to Plekanec. This year, Plekanec is the top penalty killing forward on the Canadiens but he had not been in the past and is not as solid defensively as Kesler. The 27-year old Czech is however set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and probably has more negotiating power than Kesler.

If you put all that together, I’d expect Plekanec to sign a very similar deal to Kesler’s although it may be a little shorter. My prediction would be 25 million for the next five years.

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