The above photo was snapped by Jeff Vinnick for Getty Images, and here’s what you’re looking at, according to the caption: “Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks steps off the ice for the last time in the season during their NHL game against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena April 13, 2014.”
Be assured that Vinnick arrived at Rogers Arena that night intending to get this exact photo. Why? Because he knew, just as many of us knew, that it was possible Kesler wasn’t just heading off for the last time in the season. If the Selke-winning centre gets his wish, this will soon be a photo of him stepping off the ice for the last time as a Canuck.
The regime change in Vancouver didn’t lead to a mind change for Kesler, as TSN’s Darren Dreger said last week. “He wants a fresh start and to move on from Vancouver; he met with Benning earlier this week to talk about that. It’s believed that Kesler still has six teams on his list that he’s willing to be traded to.”
If Kesler does wind up waiving, and thus waving goodbye, Vinnick’s photo goes from literal to symbolic, at which point it’s going to get a lot of play. Good photo, Jeff!
A trade won’t just benefit the best sports photographer in Vancouver, though. It’ll also benefit the Canucks.
It would be very tempting to keep Kesler around for the final two years of his contract. It’s an affordable $$5 million a year cap hit, for one thing, and he’s a versatile and important member of the Canucks’ roster. It’s a safe bet that any trade the Canucks can negotiate will leave them with a Kesler-sized hole in the roster, at least in the short-term. It makes a lot of sense to keep him.
It makes more sense to move him now, though. All of Kesler’s career, he’s been compared to Mike Richards, whom the Philadelphia Flyers drafted with the pick immediately following him. At times, like when Richards broke the 70-point barrier two years earlier, it’s been an unfavourable comparison. But with Richards currently holding down the fourth line in Los Angeles, and likely to go straight from the Kings’ Cup parade into a buyout situation, Kesler looks the far superior player right now.
He won’t look like that for long. He’ll be 30 years old in two months, and with the wear and tear on his body and the way he plays, which is likely to erode him even more, Kesler’s days as a core player on a contender are coming to a close. He’s likely to spend another year or two on the cusp between core and supporting player, making him the ideal fit for a very good team, but for a fading Canucks group, that’s not enough. Better to trade Kesler now and let him turn into Mike Richards somewhere else.
This is especially true given the current trade market. The Kings’ depth at centre, not to mention the renewed emphasis on the four-line model thanks to New York and Montreal making the East Final, has made Kesler an even more valuable commodity. Even with other centres entering the market – Jason Spezza asked out of Ottawa, Joe Thornton is rumoured to be on the block in San Jose, and the Richardses, Brad and Mike, are likely to get bought out — Kesler is the ideal centre to add.
Kesler is more versatile than Spezza, younger than Thornton, and better than either Richards. Add in his contract and it’s clear that Kesler is the perfect addition for a contending team.
The Canucks are likely to bring in a small windfall for him if they manage their cards right, but it doesn’t happen if Kesler isn’t pushing. We’ve said in the past that while Ryan Kesler is indeed a jerk, that’s a positive if he’s your noted jerk. And what appears to be his final act of noted jerkery as a Canuck — opting out of this market just when things look a bit unstable — could be a boon for Vancouver as well.