Rumor Roundup: Was keeping Kesler a wise move by the Canucks?

Ryan Kesler (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks’ unwillingness to move center Ryan Kesler by last week’s trade deadline generated almost as much attention as the deals involving other notable stars.

It was rumored Canucks’ owner Francesco Aquilini refused to allow GM Mike Gillis to trade Kesler. Gillis quickly denied it, claiming he didn’t receive sufficient offers for the 29-year-old center. The asking price was a young center, an elite prospect and a first-round draft pick.

Tony Gallagher of The Vancouver Province reported there was six clubs Kesler would waive his no-trade clause for, but three were out of the bidding or had no interest. Gallagher also claimed the Canucks weren’t interested in an offer of Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers. CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio cited sources claiming the Flyers were simply trying to drive up the asking price for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were also pursuing Kesler.

Penguins GM Ray Shero admitted to making enquiries, but he didn’t think there was a deal to be made. Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported the Penguins offered up center Brandon Sutter, first- and third-round picks, plus the Canucks’ choice of any defense prospect other than highly touted Derrick Pouliot. Refusing to part with Pouliot was the deal breaker.

The Los Angeles News’ Lance Pugmire reported the Anaheim Ducks also had interest in Kesler. The Canucks apparently didn’t want to move the center to a Western Conference rival, believing they can get better offers at the NHL draft in June. Kesler was also linked to the Chicago Blackhawks, but GM Stan Bowman denied being among the bidders.

Gillis’ critics slammed him for not moving Kesler on deadline day, suggesting having an unhappy key player on the roster would hurt the already-struggling Canucks down the stretch. They fear Gillis’ desire for a better return will suffer the same fate as his failed efforts to trade goaltender Roberto Luongo last year.

In this case, however, Gillis chose the right course of action. Unlike Luongo – who was carrying a lengthy, expensive contract into a season where the salary cap was artificially lowered – Kesler has only two more seasons remaining on his deal. The salary cap is projected to rise next season, to between $68 and $71 million, providing interested clubs with additional space to take on Kesler’s annual $5-million cap hit.

Like Luongo, Kesler’s no-trade clause significantly limits where Gillis can send him, as well as the quality of the offers. If Kesler has only six preferred destinations, and half remain uninterested or unwilling to meet Gillis’ asking price, the task of moving him becomes more difficult. Rather than repeat his blunder with Luongo, however, Gillis could be willing to bend for a decent return.

The Penguins are expected to remain among the bidders for Kesler. Shero reportedly wants to bring back his “Big Three” formula at center, with Kesler on the third line behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Ducks could also revisit their interest, hoping to outbid the Eastern clubs.

It’s unlikely the New York Rangers will be among those Eastern teams. Prior to the trade deadline, Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported the Rangers expressed interest, but Kesler won’t waive his clause to join them. There was no explanation, but it could be Kesler takes a dim view on reuniting with former Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault.

The Kesler trade saga will certainly carry over into the off-season. Speculation over his status will resurface once the Canucks season is ended, ramping up prior to the NHL draft weekend in late-June. Gillis badly handled his efforts to move Luongo. He must avoid the same mistakes with Kesler.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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