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.Tags: beating trade analysis to death, Ryan Kesler, trade deadline speculation, trade request, Trade Rumour