Ryan Kesler, with an injured hand, has been thrust into the trade spotlight.
If the 29-year-old is available for a trade, he would change the dynamic leading up to the National Hockey League trade deadline, next Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. Kesler would be a rare marquee player if available.
On Wednesday night, before the Canucks returned to play at home against the St. Louis Blues, with Kesler out “day-to-day,” Louis Jean of TVA reported on Twitter that Kesler had requested a trade last fall. Jean also reported that a trade may not happen by the deadline and instead occur by the draft, which is June 27-28 in Philadelphia.
Then Kesler’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, denied it to reporters, and Canucks general manager Mike Gillis didn’t answer the question at Rogers Arena, instead saying that the Canucks are fielding calls on numerous scenarios.
The Canucks won 1-0, breaking a seven-game losing streak, their longest in 15 years with their last win coming on Jan. 26.
Kesler is a keystone of the Canucks. The question of his injured hand is unanswered. With the Canucks, day to day could actually be much longer. Currently, Vancouver defenceman Chris Tanev has been out a month with a broken thumb.
On Thursday, however, Kesler was on the ice practising with the Canucks at Rogers Arena at Noon PT, and he appeared to be possibly ready to go for a Friday night game against the Minnesota Wild, involved in the first-unit power play practice, rather than just a light skate.
Following practice, Kesler said he hopes to play Friday. He dismissed the trade rumours, just as his agent had.
“My heart is with this group,” said Kesler.
The sentiment is not surprising. Kesler is an emotional player and an emotional man and is deeply entwined with this team. But as this week has unfolded, with the rumour first percolating on Tuesday and then exploding on Wednesday night, more and more hockey people see a Kesler trade, at least by the summer, as certain.
He has been irked this season by Tortorella playing him as a winger – he has a conviction his role in hockey is as centre, his long-standing position – and he lost his assistant captaincy under Tortorella, another slight that has dug at him. He also grates under the media spotlight in Vancouver and was personally hurt before the Olympics when coverage included rumours about his personal life. Then there is the general outlook for the Canucks, which is not great, so if Kesler wants to win, the best route could be to do it elsewhere.
The 2010-11 Selke Trophy winner has had a good season, after fighting through several years of hip and shoulder injuries. He leads all Vancouver forwards in ice time and is the only forward at more than 22 minutes a game. Of that, Kesler plays 3:39 on the power play and 2:06 on penalty kill. Under the influence of Coach John Tortorella, Kesler is third in the league among forward in blocked shots with 59. He has 20 goals and 38 points in 60 games and is 12th in faceoffs taken league-wide, winning an impressive 52.5 per cent of them.
Kesler would immediately bolster teams that are ambitious for the playoffs.
The Canucks are in a tight situation, standing 10th in the Western Conference, facing a first playoff miss in six years. A Kesler trade could significantly remake the team, possibly sacrificing the short term – in what looks like something of a lost season, unless there’s a big winning streak – to bolster the team over the next several years. With Vancouver’s management all signed to long term deals, (Gillis is in the first year of a five-year contract, assistant general manager Lauren Gilman also has a number of years on his contract and Tortorella is likewise in the first of five years) a look towards the future is a luxury they can afford.
A lot of the roster, as well, is in place for several years, starting with the Sedins, who are now signed through 2018 at $7-million apiece a year. Kesler has two years left, $5-million per, and a no-trade clause, so it will be Kesler who decides if he becomes the centre of the story of the deadline.