If it’s true that Ryan Kesler will only agree to play for two teams in the NHL next year – the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins – then new Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning will have his work cut out for him, trying to make that deal work.
Because of his skill, versatility and reasonably cheap salary cap number ($5-million per season for two more years), Kesler would be a good fit on any number of teams willing to gamble on his health.
Chicago has long needed a No. 2 centre to play behind Jonathan Toews and last week, told one of the players who’ve been trying to fill the void, Michal Handzus, he wouldn’t be back. Pittsburgh doesn’t have an obvious need for a centre, not with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brenden Sutter there, but Malkin can play the wing, as can Kesler.
It would be interesting to see if Kesler could develop chemistry with one or the other, or if the new Penguins coach – whomever that may eventually be – would just keep Crosby and Malkin together, which has worked well in the past.
No, the issue is that both the Blackhawks and Penguins are usually maxed out at the cap, and Chicago needs to be mindful of the raises that both Toews and Patrick Kane are going to get in their next deals. Their current contracts expire after the 2014-15 season and negotiations for the new deals are already underway. Since the same agent, Pat Brisson, represents both, there is not expected to be any difficulty or rancor in getting the deals done. The hope in Chicago is that they can be announced soon after July 1. Since both figure to get $2.5-million bumps from their current $6.3-million annual cap-averaged contracts, it means the ongoing task of staying competitive and cap-compliant never seems to end for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman.
Adding Kesler would require him not only to surrender young organizational assets, but may also force him to move contributing players from the roster.
As for Pittsburgh, new general manager Jim Rutherford is still finding his way around the team’s reserve list, and until he determines what’s missing from an organization with lots of high-end talent that hasn’t followed up with playoff success, he may be reluctant to part with the young assets needed to get a deal done (and Pittsburgh has young defensive depth, almost on par with Anaheim’s, that they could flip to get a major piece in place).
The Ducks will also be in the bidding for Kesler, after they cleared even more room on the NHL roster last week by announcing that Saku Koivu, among others, wouldn’t be back. Anaheim likes prospect Rickard Rakell and he will likely be in the NHL next season, but the Ducks too are trying to figure out if they are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, given that they’ll go with a young and mostly untried goaltending tandem of John Gibson and Frederik Andersen next year.
Last week, in a conference call with reporters, GM Bob Murray acknowledged that the Ducks “obviously have some things that people want” but it’s what you have “to give to get” that will ultimately determine how aggressive he will be to land that second centre to play behind Ryan Getzlaf. Kesler, Jason Spezza and even Joe Thornton (admittedly a long shot) have been linked to the Ducks in possible trade scenarios.
A KING-SIZED IDEA: Los Angeles Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi is known among his colleagues for thinking outside the box and he was at it again on Friday, on two different fronts. Lombardi proposed to the Los Angeles Times that his team take the Stanley Cup to Parliament Hill in Ottawa at some point this season, mirroring the tradition of the Stanley Cup champion making an annual White House visit.
Lombardi’s reasoning is sound and actually quite admirable: Even if his team is based in southern California, two thirds of the roster responsible for winning the championship hail from Canada, including some important key pieces such as Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards and others. All of them will get their individual days with the Stanley Cup this summer, but why not have a group get together in Ottawa as well? Why not indeed? Someone else will have to hammer out the logistics, but if they can make it work, they should. Lombardi also revealed to the Times that the team would not use a compliance buy out on Richards and the remaining six years of his contract, which represents an important leap of faith by the Kings and Lombardi – that Richards can get his game back on the rails after a difficult second half.