Vancouver Canucks trade Ryan Kesler? It's not unthinkable


We're not advoating it, but moving elite centre out would change face of the franchise

Vancouver Canucks Ryan Kesler seem to be all smiles while playing earlier in the NHL season.

Vancouver Canucks Ryan Kesler seem to be all smiles while playing earlier in the NHL season.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

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VANCOUVER — We’ll know that Daniel and Henrik Sedin are the identical faces of the franchise when the Vancouver Canucks are known universally for their talent, professionalism, humility and candour. Until then, it’s Ryan Kesler’s team.

It’s not like Kesler doesn’t also possess those noble traits, especially since humility made a late charge to the front of the pack on Tuesday when the Canuck centre discussed his National Hockey League season gone wrong.

But just as Kesler is the Canucks’ catalyst — the straw that stirs the non-fat, soy chai latte — so is he the antagonist whose reputation largely colours the team’s reputation, too.

His impact on this organization, on the ice and off, is impossible to overstate. Exhibit A is the decline of the Canucks’ game when Kesler tried to play through injuries the last two playoff series, including the five-and-out loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round of this Stanley Cup tournament.

It stands to reason, then, no move would so instantly transform and rebrand the Canucks as trading Kesler.

We’re not advocating dumping the elite two-way centre, who gets to keep the Selke Trophy another couple of months.

But trading their core player is not as unthinkable as it once seemed, given the season Kesler had, a no-trade clause in his contract that kicks in before next season, and the potential benefits to the Canucks of a multi-player windfall and the renewal of their image.

That is already underway with the seismic shift in the goal crease, as longtime incumbent Roberto Luongo unselfishly declared Tuesday he won’t stand in the way of the Canucks’ promoting backup Cory Schneider. Even halfway through this season, the idea of trading Luongo and keeping Schneider was outrageous.

The Philadelphia Flyers stunned the National Hockey League last June when they traded thought-to-be-untouchable captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.

Then Simmonds outscored Richards this season while the 20-year-old Schenn has done nothing to dissuade believers that he, too, will become an impact centre in the NHL. To be fair, it hasn’t worked out so badly for Richards, either, despite his meagre first year in Los Angeles, where the Kings are so smitten with him they can’t wait to dump Dustin Brown and make the ex-Flyer captain.

Like the Adidas ad proclaims: Impossible is nothing.

“It’s not my job to worry,” Kesler said when asked if he was concerned the Canucks might finally listen to the many teams that call periodically to inquire about him.

“They know I love it here, love playing here. I love this team and want to win just as much as everybody else in this room. That’s what you try to build your team around — character and guys who want to win.”

Indeed. And there isn’t much doubt of either when it comes to Kesler.

He was gutted by the Canucks’ elimination on Sunday as another series came and went without Kesler contributing a goal.

In the Stanley Cup Final loss to the Boston Bruins 10 months ago, Kesler managed only a single assist and a minus-six rating in seven games after suffering a torn hip labrum in the Western Conference final.

Against the Kings, Kesler had three assists in five games and was minus-one and admitted after that he had played with an injury — reportedly to his shoulder — since February.

He finished the season without a goal in 17 games.

“I think the thing that will bother me more is the last five,” he told reporters. “They had a great goalie [Jonathan Quick] who’s tough to beat. I did everything I could but put the puck in the net.

“To play 82 games to play five extra doesn’t seem worth it. You go through the 82-game schedule and we had a great year. We took a lot of flack all year and still finished on top. But we are judged on playoffs and we didn’t perform. Myself, I take full accountability. I need to produce and I didn’t.

“It’s a disappointing season. Lost opportunity? Yeah. We have a good team in here and we expected big things. I’m extremely disappointed. We expected more. I think everybody expected more, and for us to fall short is tough.”

Kesler refused to disclose his injury but said he’ll be consulting specialists and making a decision on surgery in the next 10 days. A month-long delay in surgery last season — doctors initially thought Kesler’s hip didn’t require an operation — prevented him being ready for this season.

He played his first game on Oct. 18 and reiterated Tuesday it was a mistake to return as early as he did. The 27-year-old’s 22 goals and 49 points this season were his fewest since 2008.

And his quiet series against the Kings did little to spruce up a playoff resume that shows just 10 goals in 53 games. Half of those came in a five-day span during Kesler’s spectacular second-round playoff series last year against the Nashville Predators.

General manager Mike Gillis, exasperated by the Canucks’ reputation for diving and whining, may well consider Kesler’s playoff returns when he decides how best to change his team.

Luongo and Kesler have been cornerstones so long, trading those two alone would transform the Canucks.

“It’s really not my job to worry about stuff like that,” Kesler said of the possibility of change. “We have a good team; we finished on top of the league this year. Saying that, two weeks of bad hockey kills you. Everybody knows this group can win.

“We were one win away [10 months ago] and we didn’t even get our foot in the door this year.”

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Vancouver Canucks Ryan Kesler seem to be all smiles while playing earlier in the NHL season.

Vancouver Canucks Ryan Kesler seem to be all smiles while playing earlier in the NHL season.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

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