Not to be outdone by the reports that Martin St. Louis wants out of Tampa Bay, Vancouver turned up the drama in a big way Wednesday, yielding a stunning trade request of their own.
According to Louis Jean of TVA, Ryan Kesler has requested a trade from the Vancouver Canucks.
Sources say Ryan Kesler requested a trade some time ago & wants out of Vcr. Told #Canucks don't want to trade him but may not have a choice.
— Louis Jean (@LouisJean_TVA) February 27, 2014
Somewhere, Roberto Luongo is chuckling at the idea that you can just ask for a trade and then one will happen. Have you learned nothing?
In all seriousness, though, trading Ryan Kesler would be a whole lot easier than trading Luongo, and not just because the NHL isn't about to shut down for half a year and return with a "Ryan Kesler rule" that makes his contract seem even more burdensome than before. Kesler's an impact player in the prime of his career, one that can play the wing on a first line or anchor a second or third line. He kills penalties, he gets under the skin of opponents, he hates to lose. He's versatile, gritty, and a proven playoff performer.
With the playoffs coming up, every contending team could use a guy like that, and with the cap going up, Kesler's contract, with two years remaining at $5 million apiece, is manageable.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Is the report true?
Not according to Kesler's agent, Kurt Overhardt:
Ryan Kesler has NOT requested a trade, his agent Kurt Overhardt tells me. Says reports saying so are "BS"
— Adrian Dater (@adater) February 27, 2014
Mike Gillis denied it as well, at least to some. To others, he said things, like, "I'm not going to debate whether the report is accurate or not," which means yes.
Of course, if it's confirmed, then it puts a lot of pressure on the Canucks to deal Kesler, and strengthens the bargaining position of his suitors. Suffice it to say, the Canucks aren't going to alter the direction of their franchise this severely, and make the biggest trade since Todd Bertuzzi for Roberto Luongo, unless they get a really good deal. If Kesler does want out, it's in his best interests to deny the report so his value stays up. And it's in Gillis's best interests for the report to be out there, as unverified as the @strombone1 account, so other GMs call and inquire.
But there's another thing working against a Kesler trade: his hand injury.
When Kesler returned from Sochi, the Canucks learned that their second-line center may have been playing with broken fingers, suffered early in the tournament.
Magically, it was an injury he was able to play through in Russia, but when he got home, no longer. Considering Henrik Sedin stayed home from the tournament to recover from an injury, so he'd be ready to help the Canucks fight for a playoff spot, it's hard to argue that Kesler has the same priorities. It's even harder if he really said what Jason Botchford of the Province has reported he was overheard saying in Sochi:
“I hope my hand isn’t broken because that would impact my trade.”
If Kesler were committed to the Canucks, you'd think his broken hand would concern him for other reasons, like the fact that his team needs him quite a bit.
They managed to survive their first game back without him, edging the St. Louis Blues 1-0 on Wednesday night. But now one has to wonder if this is the new normal. With three games left to the deadline, and Kesler's injury reportedly not so serious he won't be available down the stretch, has he played his last game as a Canuck?
Sure, the Canucks could hold onto him until the draft, but what's the point? Kesler would be an invaluable addition to a playoff team, and if the Canucks are willing to accept that they're only just barely that themselves, they could be sitting on the jewel of the trade deadline.
They might never get a better deal than now, as teams try to add an obvious improvement, and keep others from doing the same. Pittsburgh has been rumoured to be interested for a long time. There was even a rumour that a deal for Kesler fell through just prior to the Olympic break. Could Boston stomach Pittsburgh adding Ryan Kesler, who could play with Crosby, with Malkin, or return them to the three-center model they lost when Jordan Staal asked out?
A bidding war between Pittsburgh and Boston, and any other teams trying to prevent one of these two from jumping way out in front. It could be what the Flames did with Jarome Iginla, except three years earlier, when they should have done it.
It would be a truly bold move, and a tenure-defining one for Mike Gillis, but if he can exact the right package, say, two high-end prospects, or a younger centre that can step into Kesler's role in a few years, he could end the talk that the Canucks' window is about to close and start people saying it's about to open.