The night of March 6, Ryan Kesler played Game No. 1,001 in his NHL career. He skated for 14 minutes and 58 seconds, had one missed shot, one hit, two penalty minutes and went six-for-14 on faceoffs. Two days later, with 11 points and six teams between his Anaheim Ducks and the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, Kesler shut it down with 14 games to go in the regular season.
That may very well have been the last we’ll see of Kesler, but it won’t be for a lack of trying. There are few, if any, players who have gone to greater lengths to overcome injuries as Kesler has to rehabilitate his right hip, one that was subject to surgery in 2017. That chapter took another turn Monday when the Ducks announced Kesler had undergone successful surgery on his right hip in New York last week and is expected to miss the 2019-20 season.
But nobody’s really thinking about hockey at the moment when it comes to Ryan Kesler. This is more an issue of getting on with a normal life than it is coming back and being able to keep up with the best players in the world. Right now, it’s a matter of getting through the night with a decent sleep and being able run around with his kids. And there is a sense of reality here. How many players can basically have reconstructive surgery at the age of 34, miss an entire season of hockey and come back to play? Assuming Ryan Miller doesn’t come back next season, Kesler is already the oldest player on the Ducks roster and the one with the most NHL mileage.
“We’re all hopeful that the surgery will alleviate a lot of pain and enable him to have a much more functioning leg so he can do day-to-day activities as a man and as a dad,” said Kesler’s agent Kurt Overhardt. “And then, over time, Ryan will figure out with the team’s support what his plans will be.”
So here are some points of reference when considering how likely it is that Kesler will play again. Tim Taylor had the same surgery in 2007 and never played a game again. Ed Jovanovski was limited to six games in the 2012-13 season, then had the same ‘resurfacing’ surgery Kesler had done by the same surgeon, Dr. Edwin Su. The surgery is seen as a practical alternative to a hip replacement and involves putting a chrome metal cap at the top of the femur and a matching metal cup in the pelvis socket. Jovanovski was the first player in any of the four major sports to play after having the surgery and played another 37 games before retiring.
The Ducks have been in lockstep with Kesler on this from the beginning and fully supported his decision to have surgery. And it puts into much clearer focus their situation going forward. Previously, they could never really count on how much Kesler could play and how effective he would be playing a regular shift. Now, they don’t have to worry about how they’re going to do without him because they know now he almost certainly won’t be in their lineup for at least the next season.
It also gives the Ducks some flexibility with their cap situation. They have about $6.7 million in cap space for next season when hefty extensions to John Gibson, Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique kick in. Putting Kesler’s $6.9-million cap hit on the long-term injured list will open up some space for a team that has traditionally been a budget team, not a cap team. If they choose to use that extra cap space, they’ll be able to chase a high-profile free agent this summer. Of course, the Ducks are not going to get out from under their cap constraints until after the 2020-21 season when the combined $16.9 million they are paying Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf either comes off the books entirely or is greatly reduced. The positive thing for the Ducks is they have relatively few holes to fill from a contract standpoint going into next season.
Should Kesler be forced to retire, the Ducks would be able to leave his contract on LTIR until it expires after the 2021-22 season. Kesler said in a statement after the surgery that regardless of what the future holds for him, that he’s “in a good place.” That’s good to hear. After a thousand games, a gold medal at the World Junior Championship, a Selke Trophy and a career of going nose-to-nose with some of the top players in the NHL, Kesler deserves that much.
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