Like his teammates, Kesler was just as hard to find on the ice during a stunning five-game exit by the Presidents' Trophy winners and you have to wonder if it was more than ongoing hip pain that made it hard for the centre to shoulder responsibility. And it's not so much that the reigning Selke Trophy winner — who isn't a finalist this season — managed but three assists against the Los Angeles Kings in the one-sided series and went without a goal in his final 17 games. It's the manner is which the Vancouver Canucks approached a season that would tax the collective resolve to clear the mental hurdle of a short summer and then make sure the head was as fit as the body for a long trek back to the final.
The results were mixed because in the end they weren't the swagger-filled Canucks of last spring.
In Kesler's case, you can argue through stubbornness that he never got the proper start after returning weeks early from a July 25 hip procedure and would simply suck up any additional pain. And there's reason to believe through body language and ineffectiveness that he may have been hiding a shoulder ailment. He never adjusted a game that had deteriorated from that memorable second-round Nashville series in which he figured in 11 of the team's 14 goals. There was no Beast-Mode this season. There was Beaten-Down-Mode.
Kesler's stride would come and go through soreness in his hip flexor. He couldn't out-skate or out-battle defenders and that wrist shot that packed velocity and accuracy went away when he planted his skate and there was a tug at the hip. A career 41 goals last season turned into 22 goals and turned the attention on how one of the game's best two-way players had been reduced to a shutdown solution rather than an offensive option. The acquisition of Samme Pahlsson at the trade deadline was supposed to free up that offence.
Kesler had 17 points in a 15-game span in December, scored in five-consecutive games from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 and then went eight without a goal. That would suggest something went wonky physically at that point beyond the hip.
"It's still an ongoing thing — it still tightens up," Kesler said before the playoffs. "They [surgeons] tightened up the front of the hip capsule so much that you get some pain. The hip flexor almost pulls the femoral head forward and gives you a problem. It's all rotating and that's usually my plant leg and it took me a while to get my shot back and feel comfortable and I'm still working on it. It's going to be a never-ending process."
You also wonder if there was something else bugging Kesler because if his shot went away and he was getting less effective in the face-off circle, it would point to the shoulder because his game became more about positioning than battling. Dial back his goal funk and he hasn't scored since March 14, so it's only natural to wonder if by the very nature of his game that he banged up a shoulder in February or March and just tried to play through pain. And if it was that bad that he became a shadow of his former self, then surgery might be on the horizon.
It even got to the point where Alain Vigneault publicly challenged Kesler from the coach's podium to use his wingers more, as if to send a subtle message that putting the blinders on and trying to bolt through a number of defenders was a waste of energy and effectiveness. And because Kesler is wired to lead rather than follow, it only hampered his game. Rather than attracting defenders and dishing pucks off to his wingers, he still had that bull-in-a-china-shop mentality. You admire it but then understand why the Canucks went into defence mode and must wonder when their gung-ho centre, who has four more years at $5 million US annually, will finally escape the injury bug and surgeon's scalpel.
Without Daniel Sedin for the final nine games of the regular season and first three of the playoffs and with Kesler ineffective and too many bagels across the board — David Booth no playoff goals and one in his last 16 games, Mason Raymond no playoff goals and one in his last dozen games and nothing for Chris Higgins in the postseason — there really was no offence. When Daniel Sedin offered up a post-series assessment Sunday about not trading chances with the 29th-ranked offence, it either spoke of the reality of the situation or a suggestion that the Canucks are longing for an attacking style.
"We didn't give up much and you can't run and gun with them [Kings] or they're going to kill you," said the winger. "We got our fair share of chances to win the game. It's shocking. The way we felt lately, we thought we had a good shot to get to Game 7."
Not with a pop-gun attack and not without their best players able to compete at an optimum level.
For Kesler the final summation was simple: The mind was willing. The body wasn't.
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Edited by Kack Zassian, 24 April 2012 - 08:30 AM.