Can the Canucks win without Kesler?

With their win over the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night, the Vancouver Canucks leapt back into the playoff picture, leapfrogging multiple teams to snag the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. Sure, there’s not just one, but two teams one point back with three games in hand, but for this brief moment, things are looking mildly rosy in Vancouver.

That’s what complicates the current situation with Ryan Kesler. Sure, Mike Gillis, Kesler’s agent, and now Kesler himself have all denied Louis Jean’s report that Kesler wants out, but it’s hard to know who to believe.

For the time being, however here’s what we know: the Canucks are still in the hunt and Kesler is still an integral part of the team. Teams this close to making the playoffs don’t normally part with guys like that.

With that said, there is an awful lot of smoke out there for the Kesler rumours to involve no fire whatsoever. So, if the Canucks do trade Kesler, what does that mean for this season? Can the Canucks win without Kesler?

The easy answer would be no. We’ve seen how important depth at centre has been for past Cup winners and Kesler does more than most centres, playing a shutdown role, a scoring role and, occasionally, both at the same time. He’s also the emotional core of the team, giving the type of night-in-night-out effort that has endeared him to Canucks fans and vilified him for everyone else. Removing Kesler from the lineup would seem to rip the heart right out of the team.

But the Canucks are certainly capable of winning games without Kesler — they did just that against the Blues. It wasn’t pretty, but the Canucks managed a 1-0 win over one of the best teams in the Western Conference, while dominating possession, out-shooting the Blues 35-20. That’s just one game that required a shutout from Eddie Lack, though, so it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

We do, however, have a recent example of a Canucks team that spent a lot of time without Kesler. In 2012-13, Kesler missed all but 17 games of the 48 game season, suffering a shoulder injury to start the year, then breaking his foot blocking a shot a few games into his return. While I generally don’t like looking solely at a team’s record to judge an individual player, the result was just unusual enough for me to find it intriguing.

In his 17 games with the Canucks last season, the team went 7-7-3, which is technically .500. Without Kesler, the Canucks went 19-8-4. They had Kesler in the playoffs and got swept by the San Jose Sharks.

But there’s another way to frame this discussion, however: can the Canucks win by trading Kesler?

In all honesty, this actually seems like a pretty good time to trade Kesler. He immediately becomes the best centre on the market at the trade deadline, with his only competition being David Legwand, Steve Ott, and, perhaps, Sam Gagner, meaning he should net a decent return from a contending team looking to upgrade down the middle heading into the playoffs.

Even with the rest of the Canucks struggling, Kesler’s having a solid season. He’s leading the Canucks in goalscoring, reaching his 6th straight season (ignoring the lockout) with 20+ goals, and he’s relatively healthy. I mean, he only has a broken hand, maybe, which is basically as healthy as he gets. We’re lucky that he hasn’t chopped his hand off by now.

For the Canucks, a trade now makes sense: it’s long been thought that he would transition to first line centre as the Sedins aged and became second-line players, but that was always ignoring that Kesler is just 4 years younger than the Sedins. He’ll be turning 30 this summer, exiting the years that are generally considered to be a hockey player’s prime. His peak years of production came at 25 and 26, which is about average for the peak of an NHL player’s career.

While Kesler clearly has many years of great hockey left in him, if he is already past his prime, moving him before the rest of the NHL figures that out does make sense.

And even if they know, what contender wouldn’t want a Selke-winning, 41-goal scoring centre who is versatile enough to play wing on a scoring line, anchor your penalty kill, and be a go-to shooter on your first unit power play? Kesler isn’t a rental in the traditional sense, but as immediate injections of skill go, you could do worse, and in fact, if you acquire pretty much any other forward on the block, you have.

Dealing Kesler now, while he still has high-end trade value, may be the best route. Trading him at the deadline instead of waiting until the draft also makes sense, as teams near the top of the standings eager to cement their status as a cup contender might be willing to overpay.

In that case, trading Kesler for a big return could be a big win long-term for the Canucks, even if it hurts their ability to win this season.

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22 comments

  1. Shade of Blue
    February 27, 2014

    Curious as to why he wants out.
    Wish he would stay.
    Always admired his combination of
    skill, determination, and intensity.
    GMMG better get a good return if the
    rumours are true and he is traded.

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    February 27, 2014

    I’d say one particular advantage at the moment is the relative weakness of the Eastern conference. There are a lot of really lousy teams over there, for whom Kesler would be a major upgrade, who are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, even a high seed. The Canucks are in the hunt for the playoffs, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking they’d be able to actually win a round, let alone more than that. However, looking at the East, you’ll never convince me that teams like the Flyers, Jackets, Leafs, Red Wings, Capitals, Devils and Senators are better than the Canucks, yet because of their collective mediocrity, a big acquisition like Kesler could really push them forward. Add in the fact that the front-running teams over there also have room for some improvement, and you’ve got a good shot for a bidding war.

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    • mb13
      February 28, 2014

      Don’t forget guys, Kesler has a NTC clause in his contract so he dictates which team he goes to.

      Also – in a round about way, one has to consider Kesler in a similar way (ableit longer term) that Buffalo is treating Ryan Miller or NYR is treating Ryan Callahan. They have to trade him or risk getting nothing in return for him. If the rumour is true, then you can safely assume Kesler does not re-sign with the Canucks when his contract is up. As this date gets closer and closer, the return for Kesler will decrease and decrease.

      Let’s say Kesler has only Detroit on his list because that’s where he wants to play. Kesler’s agent can whisper to Detroit, we are going to sign with you when contract is up assuming you make a fair offer. Detroit can offer the Canucks $0.75 on the dollar now for 2 years of Kesler services (rent him for two years). Or they can wait two years and get him for nothing (but not have his services for those two years).

      Now this is all assuming Kesler has one place he wants to play… and one place only.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        February 28, 2014

        The team that acquires Kesler wants him now, not 2+ years from now. The whole point in getting him would be to have him for the playoffs and in the next couple of years, not to be able to sign him when he’s 32.

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        • mb13
          February 28, 2014

          The team that trades for Kesler want him now at a certain price. They’ll pay a different price to get him in the off-season – probably less. A different price to get him at next year’s trade deadline – probably even less. And no price if they wait two years. When the price they are willing to pay agrees to the Canucks ask (which will also change as time goes by) the deal happens.

          Luongo asked for a trade in 2011. Last I checked, he’s still on the team.

          Same timeline for Kesler takes him to free agency.

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          • Neil B
            February 28, 2014

            Just for argument’s sake, let’s say Detroit is the only place he’s going. Right now, Kesler will cost a player, a pick, and a prospect, and $5 mill per year. In two years, he will cost you no assets, but will likely fetch $7 mill or so.

            But in two years, will Detroit have Datsyuk? Will they have Zetterberg? Likely they will be missing one, if not both. In that case, adding Kesler is a wash. If you’re Holland, do you want Kesler at below market value for two years while you still have the Dynamic Duo, or do you want him at slightly over market value after you’ve lost one, if not both, of your current stars?

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  3. robotico
    February 27, 2014

    Gillis has maintained this year that the high volume of NTCs on the Canuck roster would not hamper a rebuild. If a player like Kessler has been asking for a trade since Oct maybe we are gitting some insight into why he’s been so confident?

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  4. tj
    February 27, 2014

    I like Kesler. A lot. For all manner of reasons. What is surprising me is, how okay and resigned I am to seeing him traded. For all the emotional resistance to some other trades (…ahem, Salo…), this is just plain pragmatic. And for all the articles I’ve read on this trade possibility, not a lot are arguing the emotional side. I’ve not figured out exactly why this is the case, but I think it’s partially the recognition that he’s our only trade option, he’s been increasingly hurt of late, his passion seems to be waning ever so slightly, and while I do retain the hope the Canucks will go for another run in the playoffs before Kes has retired, I think he, as with Iginla, is one of those guys you just really want to see get a cup run. Wouldn’t it be something if he ended up with the Penguins… Better them than Boston or Chicago. That would bug me. So, it seems, I’m okay if he is traded but only if he goes to a middling team. Hmm. Apparently, I’m not as magnanimous as I like to think. Ha!

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  5. Lemming
    February 27, 2014

    Don’t let Kesler turn into Iginla. Trade that man at the deadline.

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  6. Aaron
    February 28, 2014

    Kesler is probably my favorite Canucks and I would hate to see him go! That being said If the returns made the Canucks stronger next year or even the year after and with the likes of Horvat ready to come in and play a similar role to Kesler (Maybe not as good but solid two way player with the ability to score). With the right trades ( a forward with finish and a high pick and/or prospect)
    it could leave us a better team and thats something I can support. I think we will make the playoffs this year but like many others I just can’t see a deep run into them. We need to make the right move now before we end up like the Oilers or Flames. Other than Kes we could also try to move Edler who should also have some trade value.

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  7. iain
    February 28, 2014

    as initially shocking as the idea is, such a trade makes a lot of sense, as long as the canucks get good value. this season has shown us that the canucks now need to be retooled/upgraded/overhauled/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, and if it starts now hopefully they can avoid a calgary-like meltdown and follow the san jose path instead. clearly next year has to involve giving some of the touted prospects in the system (horvat, shinkaruk, etc) a proper shot in the league (also time to give kassian a good length of rope instead of the short leash he’s been held on so far) and see how the kids do – after all most of the top teams are fully stocked with young talent.

    love kes, love his attitude, his commitment, but if there’s a deal out there, canucks should be talking.

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  8. Noodle
    February 28, 2014

    I know that it’s a business and that a Kesler trade could turn out to be a good thing in the long run for the team. The problem I have is that I get really attached to the players on the team, particularly those that have been with the team for many years. I hated seeing the West Coast Express break up years ago…even though it was for the best at the time (Bertuzzi drama).

    I’m also worried that we’ll trade Ryan for players that don’t end up panning out, and then we’ll sorely regret trading him.

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  9. mb13
    February 28, 2014

    So does anybody think that the Canucks are starting to look like a circus and this will hamper their ability to sign free agents in the future?

    - Luongo fiasco
    - Hodgson wants out and then bad mouthed when traded – finds out about trade via not GMMG
    - Kesler wants out
    - who hired the coach?
    - Larscheid is suddenly gone after criticizing Luongo
    - Malhotra asked to stop playing just as Kesler scheduled to return putting Canucks over cap
    - Schneider traded when he was given starting goalie job
    - Sturm traded weeks after signing 1 year deal

    I’m sure I’ve missed a few more sideshows on my list.

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    • thk
      February 28, 2014

      Honestly, this thing about “perception” of a team that free agents look at before going is a ridiculous idea. Players care about two things the most and that is (a) $$ and (b) chance to win.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      February 28, 2014

      Far be it from me to defend Gillis, but name me one team that hasn’t made some questionable moves that players might find unattractive? One could probably argue that the Red Wings are pretty steady, but who else? Not every player in the league can play for the Red Wings.

      This is all just confirmation bias for you, mb.

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    • akidd
      February 28, 2014

      mb13, that might be a problem if…free agents mattered anymore. pre-cap, sure. post-cap? not so much. even less so as of the last cba since the home team gets to add another year of term. there also seems to be enough bc boys who are more than willing to sign with the home town favourite when you do need to fill a couple of spots.

      i know you’re not a big fan of gillis and would probably like to see him fail but…it seems now with a kesler trade and edler one that he could very well restock that cupboard pretty nicely while staying semi-competitive with a strong d-corps and goaltending. it hasn’t happened yet but i can almost see the outline forming…almost. that would be a pretty neat trick, doncha think?

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      • mb13
        February 28, 2014

        akidd … free agents do matter if a team is positioned correctly. Take Minnesota for example – Parise, Suter and Vanek via free agency.

        I don’t think GMMG has any tricks up his sleeve. His trade and drafting record to date is spotty at best. What makes anybody think that he’ll be able to pull off a rebuild. You do realize there isn’t a single Gillis drafted player on the roster other than Schroeder. And it’s not like the league is littered with Gillis drafted players that he traded.

        And frankly – I have no clue why Nonis’ draft record in Vancouver is considered spotty. He drafted Schneider, Edler, Hansen in 2004; Bourdon (who was looking promising) and Mason Raymond in 2005; Grabner in 2006. He was GM for 4 drafts and has 5 NHL players to show for it (possibly 6 – tragically, we’ll never know about Bourdon).

        Gillis first 4 years. Hodgson in 2008. Schroeder and Connauton in 2009. C’mon. This is the guy people trust to re-build?

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        • akidd
          February 28, 2014

          pairse and suter are the perfect example. that’s what you gotta pay these days. that’s a big risk for an owner. also they’re hometown boys which is just what i was saying.top players want to go to a competitive team in a nice city. or close to home. everything else is pretty much moot.

          i know gillis hasn’t made many huge moves but he hasn’t sold the farm either. which means it’s still for sale. there’s a few decent prospects in the shoot. add young d tanev, stanton, corrado to the vets and that’s pretty solid. lack looks great too. then you’ve got horvat, shinkaruk, kassian,, as potential top-6 plus a few others with some potential. it’s gonna depend on what he can get from kesler and edler but it could easily be some more nice forwards. plus vets burrows, hansen higgins (and the sedins in a secondary role) and boom…you’ve got a new younger team with a mix of vets. not bad for drafting in the 20′s for years and years.

          is it a cup-team? who knows but it ain’t bad.

          sure gillis has made some errors here and there. it’s a tough job. but he hasn’t knee-jerked this team to nowheresville. i sure hope he pulls the trigger on kesler and edler though. that’s pretty key.

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        • Neil B
          February 28, 2014

          GMMG, as you say, has only added, in his first 4 years, a second-year first liner who was in the Calder conversation, a first-year pro, and a part-timer (Connauton).

          Sadly, sadly, GMMG has always put his team in the playoff picture, a failing which has severely hampered his draft record, to the point that he has only drafted 5 full- or part-time NHLers. Completely inadequate, especially when compared with Nonis’ record of 5 quality draftees with 6-to-10 years of seasoning.

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    • shoes
      March 1, 2014

      I wouldn’t know where to start with that troll, but I do know that you cheer for one of the top two teams in Alberta….. Just curious, doesn’t matter which one, but given their GM’s and their last 10 year track record how can you possibly troll the Canucks.

      The only thing that is far superior in the Alberta hockey fan base to the West Coast is the stunning haircuts. Business in the front, party in the rear. lol

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  10. BBoone
    March 1, 2014

    When you look at consistently successful pro sports franchises there are some key common denominators . Two of them are ” don’t fall in love with your players , the teams interests come first ” and ” admit mistakes quickly , cut your losses and move on ” Applying these principles to the Canucks you would trade Kesler ( and one of there NTC defencemen ) for blue chip
    Youth and fire Tortorella ( yesterday if possible )
    The Patriots , Red Sox and Black Hawks come to mind .

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    • shoes
      March 1, 2014

      Whatttttttttt? Bwaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaa

      Red Sox almost 100 years waiting for a championship and the Blackhawks while good in the last 5 years sucked for about 60 years……in order to get good. In the ’90′s they had games with 2-300 fans at them. Epic fail on this comparison.

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