By Adam Brady
Described by more than one teammate as “moody,” Ryan Kesler’s emotions can range from the elation of a playoff goal-scorer to the wit and sarcasm of an internet talk show host to the hush of a man whose season has come to an abrupt end.
This afternoon on a somber exit interview day at Honda Center, the 31-year-old Kesler spoke barely above a whisper as he addressed the media in a hallway outside the Ducks locker room. Kesler wore a blue t-shirt and a black nondescript ballcap as he ruminated on Anaheim’s disappointing and all-too-familiar Game 7 defeat three nights ago to Nashville.
“It’s still too early to even look back for me,” Kesler said as reporters and microphones inched closer to hear him. “It’s just the way this whole season has gone, it was a tough year for everyone. The way we started to the way we started the playoffs, for whatever reason, it didn’t come together the way we’d hoped.”
|"There is no doubt in my mind we should have won that game. We outplayed them, we outhit them, we outshot them. We were the better team that night. We just didn’t win.” |
The Ducks of course got off to a dreadful start to the season that saw them drop as low as 29th in the league. But they made an incredible surge around Christmastime that saw them capture a fourth straight Pacific Division title, and they were among the Cup favorites going into the postseason. Kesler contends that the energy expended in that bounceback may have ultimately hurt them.
“When you win one game out of your first eight, or whatever it was, and get off to a start like that, it’s tough to climb out of it,” he said. “Going into Christmas, I think everybody wrote us off. For us to come back and win the division is something special. Saying that, I think that hurt us. We were in playoff mode since Christmas, and I think it wore on some guys.”
While the Ducks have dropped Game 7s at home in four straight postseasons, Kesler has only been part of two of them, having come to the Ducks in a trade in the summer of 2014 – after the team was eliminated by LA. He says Wednesday night’s game was in stark contrast to last year’s defeat at the hands of eventual Cup champion Chicago in the Western Conference Final.
“The last two Game 7s were completely different,” said Kesler, who had Anaheim's only goal in the game. “With Nashville, we should have won. There is no doubt in my mind we should have won that game. We outplayed them, we outhit them, we outshot them. We were the better team that night. We just didn’t win.”
Kesler was among a litany of Ducks lamenting yesterday’s dismissal of head coach Bruce Boudreau, saying, “He’s a good man and he’s a good coach, obviously. I think losing that Game 7 was a nail in the coffin. It’s tough to see your coach fired, and I think the onus goes on us.
“He was a coach who really cared about you as a player and a person. I think that’s rare to find nowadays. Every day, he’d ask you how your day was the day before. He’s a quality guy, and to see him fired sucks. At the end of the day, he was our leader and our coach, and he took the fall for us.”
|“It’s still too early to even look back for me. It’s just the way this whole season has gone, it was a tough year for everyone. The way we started to the way we started the playoffs, for whatever reason, it didn’t come together the way we’d hoped.” |
Kesler himself was much like this Ducks team, as he had a strong season despite a rocky start. He didn’t score his first goal until the 15th game of the regular season, but potted seven in his final 12 to eclipse 20 for the eighth time in his career. For the second straight year, he was arguably Anaheim’s best player in the postseason, scoring four goals while routinely being sent out with linemates Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano to shut down the opposing top line.
That defensive prowess just earned Kesler his fourth career nod as a finalist for the Selke Trophy, given to the league’s best defensive forward. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards on June 22.
“Obviously it’s nice to get recognized,” Kesler said. “It’s a tribute to Bruce and him trusting me in those situations and throwing me out against the other team’s top line and giving me that challenge. He trusted me and I relish that. It wasn’t just me out there. It was playing with Silfver and Cogs and those great linemates I had.”
While those three are likely to be back next season, the Ducks have some uncertainty going into the summer with a handful of free agents. Yet Kesler knows regardless of the decisions made by Ducks GM Bob Murray and the rest of the hockey operations staff, the franchise will continue to contend for a championship.
“This team still has a lot to give, and obviously as a team we don’t want to lose players, especially young players with a lot to give,” said, who signed a six-year extension last summer that keeps him in Anaheim through the 2021-22 season. "Murph has some work to do this summer, and we need to find a way. He is gonna do what he’s always done, and he’ll give us the best chance to win. I think he knows our window is three to four years and then it closes. I think he’ll do the best job he can do to give us the best chance to raise that Cup.”