Shortly after a report emerged that Ryan Kesler had asked for a trade out of Vancouver, his agent denied it, while the Canucks GM made no comment. But if the initial report was true, Gillis will stare down his biggest challenge yet.When last we saw the Vancouver Canucks, the hobbled team was bobbling its way into the Olympic break. Vancouver lost its last seven games, all in regulation, and by time the Olympic flame was ignited, the once mighty had fallen to one point out of a playoff spot. And behind two teams, each with two games in hand. They returned Wednesday against the St. Louis Blues and though Ryan Kesler missed the game with a hand injury he sustained in Sochi, all the focus was on him. In the hour or two leading up to game time he was both asking for a trade and not asking for a trade. First came the report Kesler wanted out of Vancouver, and has for some time.
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, 2014So then the wheels started spinning. What would the Canucks want for Kesler? What would teams offer for him? Can Ray Shero really pull off more trade magic? But before the hour was out, the request was turned on its head by Kurt Overhardt, Kesler's agent.
#Canucks - agent for Ryan Kesler tells CKWX that trade request story is false. — News1130 Sports (@News1130Sports) February 27, 2014So which is it? Has Kesler requested a trade or not? For his part, Canucks GM Mike Gillis neither confirmed, nor denied the report, saying "if he did or didn't want out, I wouldn't discuss it publicly." So it's still not clear what Kesler's desire is, but you know what they say about smoke and its relation to fire. Between the snowballing situation in Tampa Bay with Martin St-Louis, the impending firesale in Buffalo with Matt Moulson and Ryan Miller and Long Island with Thomas Vanek, the trade deadline is heating up. But if recent history holds, a potential trade involving someone like Kesler, a player under contract, isn't likely to happen until the off-season, notably at the NHL draft. But right now, there's no telling if the situation in Vancouver is heating up, or if it can simmer into the summer. Though they are still fully capable of being a playoff team, the Canucks will need to make some adjustments to a flagging roster. They have been in steady decline since the 2011 Stanley Cup final and the core is quickly getting older. If Jean's report is correct, it would be an opportunity for the Canucks to get a jump on the inevitable shuffling. At face value, Kesler comes with a cap hit of $5 million for two more seasons beyond this one. It's a very moveable, very manageable deal and Kesler, still, has the ability to impose his will for stretches. He's still a fierce, tireless checker. He's still on pace to score 27 goals, which would be the second most he's scored in a season - though this hand injury will now slow that down. And at 29 years old, he's still a player who, if added to a Stanley Cup contender, would help tip the scales. He's not a No. 1 center, but he's one heck of a second option for a team strong up front. Teams are bound to offer big. The Canucks would need to tread carefully and get a return that wouldn't sacrifice the present, while setting up support for the future. But any move involving Kesler that doesn't have a replacement player coming back would leave the Canucks with a gaping hole at second line center. The best teams don't have problems at center. You know who would have slid in nicely? Cody Hodgson. Memories… Gillis has made some head-scratching moves in his time with the Canucks and though he just finished dealing with a long-standing goalie controversy last summer, this Kesler situation would be his biggest test yet. There is no safety net behind this decision. Follow Rory on Twitter