Kesler trade shows Benning isn’t afraid to win a deal by losing it

PHILADELPHIA – Shortly after the Canucks announced the Ryan Kesler trade, I received a text from an NHL employee.

“Three quarters for a dollar,” it said.

That’s a fair assessment of a trade that saw the Canucks receive Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and the Anaheim Ducks’ other first-round pick for former Selke winner Ryan Kesler. Even admitting that Kesler’s not the guy who destroyed everyone and everything in the 2011 playoffs — first the Nashville Predators, then the San Jose Sharks, then, finally, himself — he’s still worth more than the sum of those spare parts. No offence to Nick Bonino, who is likely to replace Kesler as the Canucks’ second line pivot, but he’s no Ryan Kesler replacement. (Say what you will about Bonino’s points, but he was playing for a team committed to scoring goals, not a team allergic to it. And he’s not the same shutdown corner.)

But the Canucks don’t care. This wasn’t about who they got. It was about who they got rid of. This wasn’t a hockey trade. It was a Tylenol trade.

Benning wanted to keep Kesler. For all of an hour. Looking over the roster he had inherited, and considering his pursuit of a “meat and potatoes” team, i.e. the Louis Armstrong diet, Kesler seemed to fit it. And then, shortly after he plugged it in, the phone rang. As Jason Botchford noted in the best get of the weekend, Kesler’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, called Benning on Day 1, before the new GM had even had a chance to adjust the height, posture correction, and armrests on his desk chair, and things got shouty almost instantly.

They stayed shouty for weeks. “There was a lot of threats both ways,” Benning told Botchford. “Kurt would phone and yell and scream at me. I’d yell and scream at him. We’d put it to bed.”

Kesler wanted out, and he wasn’t budging. But he wouldn’t go just anywhere, and with his no-trade, he didn’t have to. He would only go to the best teams, teams that are contenders without Kesler, and could conceivably become super-teams with him. Screw rivalries. Those are the concern of Vancouver’s residents and players, and Kesler had no interest in being either any longer.

So he also had no concern for the Canucks making a trade that helped them too, a fact that was clear as day when Kesler whittled his list of destinations from six teams to three, and after Pittsburgh started looking a little shaky, two. Six teams might have given the Canucks room to create leverage. But then they might turn things around, or get enough back to prevent Kesler’s new super-team from winning the Cup. So two it is.

Kesler and Overhardt’s gameplan: be loud. Be aggressive. Make it clear that the longer Kesler’s around, he’ll be a headache and a distraction and Luongo part two but less fun and move him now or this phone’s never gonna stop ringing. Make the Canucks make the trade just to hear themselves think.

And then, just for giggles, Kesler burned the Canucks on the way out. Asked to explain his reasons for wanting to go, he mumbled, in his inimitable way, “The fact they’re in a rebuild and are looking to get younger and are years away from being a contender, I think it was just time for me to move on and win, and hopefully take home a championship.”

At the risk of sounding like an embittered fan, Kesler was never about the Canucks. He was about Ryan Kesler. That’s fine, mind you, so long as he’s on your team. Selfish and miserable athletes come through pro sports franchises all the time. An all-encompassing desire to win is a nice quality when you make the playoffs. It’s a lot less nice, however, when the guy’s not wearing your colours.

The guy was always a beanbag. But he was our beanbag. Now he’s not, so goodbye and good riddance, beanbag.

Trevor Linden admitted that the Canucks briefly considered refusing Kesler’s outrageous demands, telling him they’d see him at training camp, sweating him out. But in the end, Jim Benning, who drives the bus, would rather have three quarters than the loudest, most obnoxious dollar around, so he dropped Kesler off at the curb.

Can you imagine Kesler sulking around the locker room next season? Kesler was already not particularly well-liked in the room. From Sportsnet:

The guy is prickly, and by my contacts within the Canucks organization, that attitude went well beyond his dealings with media and stretched to team employees, few of whom will be sad to see this transaction finally get made.

Inside the room, Kesler’s wish to be dealt at the March 5 trade deadline was seen by one Canuck veteran I spoke with as a guy jumping ship when times were tough. He was happy to be a Canuck when they were winning the Northwest and making Cup runs, but the minute times got tough he was ready to move on.

Guys like that are easy to let go.

And this is the big takeaway from the first draft weekend under the new regime. They’re willing to win a trade by losing it. Contrast that with the Gillis era, a group that was unwilling to admit when there was egg on their face, when they were over a barrel, when it wasn’t going to get any better for them. They became a laughingstock. They wound up playing Eddie Lack until they practically had to tie him to the goalposts to keep him up. The Canucks aren’t chasing Ryan Miller right now if Mike Gillis is willing to take a haircut on Luongo just to get out from under that contract, but he had to be the smartest guy in the room. No doubt, plenty of times, he was, but the wisest man in the room knows when to let others in the room think he’s unwise.

And he knows when to play the hand he’s dealt, which is what Benning did this weekend, and pretty well, at that. No, he didn’t get a top prospect in the Kesler trade, and that’s a loss. But he did get a second first, which made him feel comfortable about trading for Linden Vey with his high second round pick, acquired in the Jason Garrison deal. (After Kesler, is it any surprise that Benning wanted to shed another no-trade clause?)

Vey is believed by many to be the Kings’ top prospect, but after re-upping Marian Gaborik and deciding not to buy out Mike Richards, there was no room for Vey in the Kings’ lineup, effectively. Luckily, the team named after a lumberjack was more than willing to help clear up a logjam, and thus, Vey makes for two Lindens in Vancouver.

Following that, the Canucks went about day two of the trade whistling while they worked, happily selecting a nice little crop of prospects, and even getting another goalie prospect, who, as it happens, really wants to be here after hearing his Dad, a one-time UBC student, speak of the city’s wonders.

“We want players who want to play for our team,” Benning said this weekend, more than once. When the top-ranked goalie in the draft fits that criteria, especially after all that’s gone on, you make that pick.

With the pick the Canucks received in the Kesler trade, they selected Jared McCann, who plays a Kesler type of game and even admitted to modelling himself after Kesler. That’s a red flag, but the Canucks got a decade out of Kesler before the inevitable divorce. If the same happens with McCann, so be it.

Plus ten years is a long time. More than likely, he’ll be someone else’s first-day headache.

38 comments

  1. EllynBleu
    June 30, 2014

    Good read!! Harrison, I agree with you on the Kesler comments. My feeling about Kesler, just listening to him, was that he came across as being arrogant and wanted little to do with the *little people*, meaning fans and others. I am surprised at the locker room comment:

    **one Canuck veteran I spoke with as a guy jumping ship when times were tough. He was happy to be a Canuck when they were winning the Northwest and making Cup runs, but the minute times got tough he was ready to move on.**

    Yes, for that reason alone, I can say, good riddance, Kesler. Karma may come back to haunt you.

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    • Whazzit
      June 30, 2014

      I have the feeling that was Bieksa who said that :D

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  2. CoolerHeads
    June 30, 2014

    I like how straight forward Benning and Linden are. I always felt like Gillis was trying to sound honest but would just ended up sounding disingenuous when things went south.

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  3. UsedKeslershirtforsalehere
    June 30, 2014

    Good read. I am qite satisfied with the return for Kesler but I cant help to giggle at the simularities between Keslers return haul and the often talked about package of “Raymond +Ballard +2nd”. ;)

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  4. Chris the Curmudgeon
    June 30, 2014

    Well, being that I was one of the commenters on this blog who was most reluctant to take the Kesler trade rumours at face value (in the sense that so many internet rumours are really just fecal matter thrown against a wall to assess its adhesiveness), I would be remiss not to show up to admit that you were right about this one, Harry and Danny. It always seemed to me that if Kesler wanted out that badly, he wouldn’t have tried to hamstring the process by dictating an impossibly short list of teams, which also fit logically with Kesler’s public act of seeming reluctantly willing to consider a trade. Or, put another way, if Kesler was so determined to be elsewhere, he would have done anything to expedite that process. Logically sound reasoning, but missing one critical consideration: the extent of the prick-liness of Ryan Kesler. I mean, I knew the guy was a “dink”, but clearly I underestimated how much of one he was. Basically, the strategy was to try to extort a trade completely on his terms by threatening to make a complete arse of himself as long and as intensely as possible, regardless of how it comes across to his team or the city or the league as a whole. Sure, it would have been self-defeating, in that no other team would want a guy like that once it began, but if Kesler couldn’t get what Kesler wanted then he was going to let anyone and everyone else suffer with him too.

    So the internet scuttlebutt was right this time, I was wrong, and when all of the dust has settled, anything more than a bag of pucks and a fresh start without him would have been a win in return for Kesler. Getting Bonino, who I actually think is a pretty solid player, plus some other plus assets in Sbisa and draft picks, could be considered a king’s ransom when combined with the addition by subtraction of a headache that was about to become a skull-splitting migraine. I was pulling for the Ducks in the playoffs last year, mostly as an alternative to the Sharks, Kings, Hawks and all the other more hated Western rivals. There sure as hell won’t be a repeat of that sentiment in the future.

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    • James
      June 30, 2014

      Just to be clear, that whole: “wants to be here” is not really applicable to just-drafted prospects. What else are they gonna say? These kids are stoked to be drafted and have every right to be.
      It’s a bit silly to claim that their desire to be here should play a factor in their being selected.

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      • Harrison Mooney
        June 30, 2014

        Nah, you’d be surprised. Players that don’t want to get drafted by certain teams make private complaints all the time, as do their meddling parents and new agents.

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        • James
          June 30, 2014

          Do these private complaints exclude professing public support for the drafting team? I am endlessly amazed by sentiment like: “But, but, but…. JB publicly said we’d try to compete for the cup next year!” I think we all understand that what is said in public is often different than what is said in private. This makes claims about ‘wanting to be here’ even less reliable. Sure someone wants to be here while it’s in their best interest to be ‘seen’ as wanting to be here. Happens all the time. Words are wind and all that :)

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      • Dissin' Terry
        June 30, 2014

        McCann’s Bertuzzi-like impersonation of ‘it is what it is’ when asked about being selected by the Canucks hardly screams ‘happy to be here’ to me. So not such a silly claim to wish for a desire to play here after all. Just ask Nordiques fans about Lindros. ;p

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        • Chris the Curmudgeon
          June 30, 2014

          The dude was ranked 10th in North America and just dropped to 24th. I’d say we give him a break being that he was having a really disappointing evening waiting for his name to be called. Sure, perhaps it’s childish to sulk over one’s draft position, but these players are also 18 years old, ie: they ARE children. One poorly chosen line isn’t enough to make me want to write off Jared McCann just yet.

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        • James
          June 30, 2014

          That comment has allegedly been refuted by McCann himself. He was referring to his being taken 24th in the draft after being projected as 10th overall.

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          • nateb123
            June 30, 2014

            Not allegedly refuted, it was. It’s on his twitter account for all to see.

            In the same way that we should give him a break for being disappointed he dropped 14 spots, we should probably give him some slack for being 18 and not exactly polished in front of the cameras.

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    • rob
      June 30, 2014

      Gotta say, that was well said, and I’m with you in that I didn’t want to believe the scuttlebutt either. As it stands, I wish Kes the fate of Dany Heatly.

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      • H
        July 2, 2014

        “50 goals in 07, &%#^@*”

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  5. Naturalmystic
    June 30, 2014

    Excellent article as usual.

    With regards to the Kesler trade, Bonino had a career year and will be lucky to end up with 30 -35 points next season. Enjoy the fight for 28th place with the Oilers and Flames.

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  6. Scott
    June 30, 2014

    This also describes many of the fans the Canucks picked up in the last five years:

    “He was happy to be a Canuck when they were winning the Northwest and making Cup runs, but the minute times got tough he was ready to move on.”

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  7. PDXNuckfan
    June 30, 2014

    Well said! Agree completely. I get really frustrated with the short sightedness of other local writers who suggest the minor league Canucks got fleeced by a major league team! GMJB did the right thing and got the best value he could. Was Kesler worth more? Sure. But as the Luongo fiasco taught us…waiting for a better deal could blow up in your face. And the team culture is far better without someone who doesn’t want to be there.

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  8. Mike
    June 30, 2014

    Most fans aren’t stupid and I think they saw how arrogant and selfish Kesler was but put up with it because he was an impact player and we were winning. I personally wish he was traded after 2012 as I never liked selfish players. Here’s one fan that hopes he never wins a championship.

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    • EllynBleu
      June 30, 2014

      I second that, Mike!!

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    • J21
      June 30, 2014

      I wish he was sent to Pittsburgh last deadline, because the package would have been better, and I never believed there was any reason to think draft day would be better.

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  9. Tom
    June 30, 2014

    “The fact they’re in a rebuild and are looking to get younger and are years away from being a contender, I think it was just time for me to move on and win, and hopefully take home a championship.”

    That is a very accurate description of the Canucks. If Kesler felt it was time to move on then so be it. Its his career to mold. He waived his no trade clause and provided an opening. He didn’t have to. The fact that he opened it up to three teams is a smart move on his part. Its a business decision.

    Why is it that the sports writers in Vancouver don’t understand that the bandwagon is a no go zone for them. Just cover the story and leave your emotional baggage about it out of it. Cover the business end, no one cares how you feel about the story and if Fin is upset.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      June 30, 2014

      If he didn’t want to be in Vancouver through the ebbs and flows, he shouldn’t have signed a long term deal with an 8 figure dollar value. Sure, it had a no-trade clause, but that’s not the same as having a must-trade-to-team-of-choice-at-player’s-whim clause. The no-trade clause is added to protect a player from unwanted moves, not to give them leverage to force unfavourable trades upon the GM.

      You invoke “business”, well the smartest business decision for Kesler here was his choice to be petulant and stubborn and bring the team down with him, because it forced JB into accepting his terms. By the same token, it was a pure business decision for Benning to make it clear (albeit somewhat implicitly) to Canuckdom and their media that the stalwart warrior they had grown to know and love is in fact a selfish, disloyal mercenary. It’s great PR because it makes it much easier for the fans to forgive the team for trading a fan favourite for a below market return. Not personal Tom, only business.

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  10. Stink Pickle
    June 30, 2014

    How many games does Kesler have to miss before Vancouver officially wins this trade? Or will it be timing, as opposed to games lost? Time will prove that Anaheim is actually the team taking a gamble here.

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    • Erik Lonnrot
      July 2, 2014

      That is the other huge piece of this that I haven’t seen talked about too much. Kesler may have a couple of good seasons left in him or he may not even have one. I would say “lose a trade to win it” and all the other stuff aside, Vancouver has a ~50% chance of just straight up winning this trade due to Kesler falling apart.

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  11. TW
    June 30, 2014

    Fantastic reporting, Mr. Mooney! Keep up the good work!

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  12. BBoone
    June 30, 2014

    It is always interesting when you let go of something you have been holding on . step back , and realize how much fresh air and space has been created. The right atmosphere is a major part of developing young players and inspiring renewed commitment from your veterans. Today the Canucks look and feel so much better. Really good article.

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    • James
      June 30, 2014

      Agreed. There has been a stink of desperation around this team since after 2011. I am actually of the opinion that we got lucky in 2011 to do as well as we did. Bruins weren’t a great team and neither were we, it’s just that Chicago and Anaheim and LA fell off a bunch that year and we snuck in (that whole season was like a dream). Then we nearly had the cup, but just fell apart because our core was too dependent on sleep doctors and line matching and zone starts for success in the regular season and couldn’t hack the playoff grind without getting ground down into mush.

      A true reset means getting durable players that can play with the puck rather than chasing it. I am all for keeping our youth in the minors next season and letting them get stronger and polish up their game.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        June 30, 2014

        Funny how someone can comment on an entire season without, apparently, watching any of it.

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        • James
          July 1, 2014

          Believe it or not the above was said without malice. But truth is not often popular. If anyone wonders why politics is such a web of lies, just look in the mirror.

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          • H
            July 2, 2014

            >2011
            >Bruins weren’t a great team and neither were we

            Laughing my head off. The bruins were a Powerhouse and so were we. Do you remember that season at all?? Or are you associating the present Chicago, LA and Anaheim teams and projecting them on your terrible memory? The west was much less disparate 3 years ago, and although those teams were close to skill to the Canucks or Bruins, saying that they “weren’t a great team” is a joke. Both were a powerhouse in their own right and would have easily manhandles this past seasons New York Rangers.

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  13. REM
    June 30, 2014

    In the end I think the Canucks got great value for Kesler. This is absolutely not even close to the player he was in the 2009 to 2011 period and anybody who watched the Canucks the last few years is very aware of that. I think the most revealing thing is that even third pairing defensemen had no trouble handling him one on one, where he used to be a huge threat against any defender one on one. When you throw Dorsett into the equation, and Kesler’s negativity I’d say this was a huge win for Vancouver.

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  14. T-Canuck
    June 30, 2014

    I think that as a fan we get our expectations up in these situations. The fact of the matter is that even if Kesler was still great which he isn’t I would rather have a bag of pucks than a guy with the negativity that he exhumed. He was never a team guy even when he was good and his personality is that of an unapproachable junk yard dog. No matter who the Canucks got the team can now move on with a positive attitude and a new season before them. Bonino may never be as good as Kesler thinks he is, but if he is a Canuck at heart I’ll take 2 of him.
    With Trevor working his Canuck heart into the culture of this franchise you can’t help but think this will bring positive results for those that buy into it, and as for those who don’t buy into it I say hit the road. We want Canucks here not a bunch of prima donnas.

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  15. Wetcoaster
    June 30, 2014

    “Inside the room, Kesler’s wish to be dealt at the March 5 trade deadline was seen by one Canuck veteran I spoke with as a guy jumping ship when times were tough. He was happy to be a Canuck when they were winning the Northwest and making Cup runs, but the minute times got tough he was ready to move on.”

    That’s just really screams “Kevin Bieksa”. I don’t think any of the other Canucks vets are that outspoken

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    • Nikki
      June 30, 2014

      Kevin “I’m going down with this ship” Bieksa:

      “I’m a Canuck at heart and I’m going down with the ship. I’ll be here until they throw me out of here. I still believe in this team and this group. And I still think we can win”

      I knew breaking the bank on his (game-worn) jersey was the right move. He is heart and class and true Captain material. In other words, the exact opposite of Kesler.

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      • Wetcoaster
        July 1, 2014

        On the bright side, they don’t have to worry as much about Kes being a bad influence on the prospects now

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  16. J21
    June 30, 2014

    Rumor is that Kesler simply would have refused to report if he hadn’t been dealt. Honestly, I kind of wish they had done exactly that. He had no actual power to force a trade (and Bonino/Sbisa aren’t going to be the difference between a good and bad season), so why not let him stew in Livonia until he expands his list?

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  17. Snepsts
    June 30, 2014

    Kesler is like one of those early 2000s Audi A4s you see driving around Vancouver. They were cool as heck three years ago, but then you actually sit in one and it smells like a wet dog, badly needs detailing, and has over 300 000 kms on it and you’re like, I would so trade this in before the wheels fall off.

    Not sure what that says about Burrows. He’s kind of like a random Citroen. If you see it you’re like, wtf is that doing here? That doesn’t belong on the road. And then it scores the winning goal in game seven in the first round of the series.

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    • H
      July 2, 2014

      Probably the best analogy I have read all year. Kudos to you, sir! Kudos!

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