Ryan Kesler wanted out of Vancouver, but had the contractual power to determine the marketplace for his services. That handcuffed his team, with Kesler reportedly only willing to be traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Friday, hours before the NHL Draft, the Ducks won that mini-derby, trading forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa, the 24th overall pick and their third-round pick (No. 85) in 2014 to the Vancouver Canucks for Kesler and the Canucks’ third-round pick in 2015.
Kesler has two more years left on a 6-year, $30 million contract with a $5 million annual cap hit. Bonino has a $1.9 million hit through 2017, while Sbisa is signed at $2.175 million through next summer when can become an RFA.
Both are quality players going back to Vancouver, although not the blue-chippers Kesler might have garnered had the marketplace been expanded beyond three teams. But as the Canucks learned through the Roberto Luongo ordeal, no-move clauses are the devil’s details.
In Kesler, the Ducks get themselves one of the most highly regarded two-way centers in the game. He scored 25 goals in 77 games last season, played 21:49 per night. He won 52.6 percent of his draws last season, and was plus-1.7 percent in corsi rel (i.e. the Canucks were a better possession team with him on the ice) while he started 33.8 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone.
What this gives the Ducks is that essential one-two punch at center that’s become mandatory for nearly every Stanley Cup winner in recent memory. (Save for the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, who miraculously won with Michal Handzus as their second pivot.) Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano (if they shift him there, after letting Koivu go) up the gut give them a depth that may not match but can certainly compete with what the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks can roll out at center.
But Kesler’s not without his question marks. He’s missed 41 games in the last three seasons, after a run of three years in which he played 82 games. Even when he’s in the lineup, Kesler’s style leads to his playing through injuries. As many around the NHL note, he’s a 29-year-old player whose body might seem significantly older.
That said, it’s an essential move for the Ducks to reach the next level, and not a bad trade for Vancouver in getting the players and the pick. They weren’t going to raid Chicago for Brandon Saad. They weren’t pulling top prospects away from Pittsburgh. GM Jim Benning said they weren’t pulling the trigger on a deal unless they got fair value for Kesler, and two roster players and a pick isn’t bad.
But perhaps the biggest benefit for Vancouver is that a sullen veteran hell-bent on getting out of Canada is out of the dressing room, and management did what the previous regime couldn’t do, which was pull the trigger on a deal that avoids a lingering, franchise crippling migraine.
And the Ducks knew they weren't going to allow that to happen again, named their price and pulled Ryan Kesler from a division rival.