Many options for Canucks to consider on Ryan Kesler
GM Benning and the centre met this week but lips are sealed
Ryan Kesler met with Jim Benning this week. It’s not up there with a Putin-Obama summit, but in these parts, it’s big news.
While all parties have their lips zipped on what transpired in that face-to-face and what could play out this month with the Vancouver Canucks centre — he was willing to waive his no-trade clause at the deadline — the agenda has never really changed for the former Selke Trophy winner.
Kesler turns 30 on Aug. 31 and wants to win now. As the new general manager, it’s Benning’s mandate to complement the team’s top goal scorer with an elite winger and ease the centre’s concerns about a suspect collective skill level. After all, he did call Kesler “a warrior.”
It’s also imperative to get back to the playoffs yet balance that with the long-term objective to become competitive in the ultra-tough Pacific Division, where the Canucks had but one road win this season and were outscored 35-14.
The Canucks were ranked 26th on the power play and 28th offensively in a bizarre injury-plagued season, but aren’t far removed from a wild-card playoff position. However, to suggest they can match the skill and will of the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks is far-fetched. Which, of course, brings up the Kesler conundrum, because he stirs the roster drink.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ducks had serious interest in Kesler at the deadline and if the Canucks want to take a hard look at forming a foundation for the next three to five years, it might not include Kesler.
Expect the Ducks to come calling again during draft week. They need a strong, two-way centre behind Ryan Getzlaf and Kesler fits the bill. They have two first-round picks in the June 27-28 draft in Philadelphia and could also send a centre this way — not the untouchable Nick Bonino, 26, but maybe Mathieu Perreault, 26 — and winger Kyle Palmieri, 23.
Perreault had 18 goals in 69 games and the restricted free agent earned $1 million US this season. Palmieri had 14 goals in 71 games and has two years left at an annual $1.46-million cap hit.
The Canucks could hold out for big winger Devante Smith-Pelly, 21. He had five NHL playoff goals for the Ducks this spring after 27 goals in 55 AHL games and is an RFA, who had an $870,000 cap hit at the NHL level. At the very least, the Canucks would get a first-rounder and two young and affordable roster players.
If they did that deal, the Canucks could also look even further down the rebuild road. They could package the No. 6 pick in this draft and 2013 first-round pick Bo Horvat — projected as a third-line centre — to get the first-overall pick that the Florida Panthers are shopping. The Canucks can play centre Shawn Matthias on the third line. That concept would allow the Canucks to grab local centre Sam Reinhart, who will go in the top three picks, and still have the 24th overall pick from the Ducks in a Kesler swap.
The Penguins also pitched hard for Kesler at the deadline.
The other move the Canucks could consider — especially if they move Kesler and don’t get a long-term fit at centre in return — is to tender a July 1 offer sheet to restricted free agent Ryan Johansen. The 21-year-old Port Moody native is coming off a breakout 33-goal season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and even though the body of work is short, the returns could be long with the 6-foot-3, 223-pound centre.
However, depending on the annual salary in an offer sheet, it could be risky business. Johansen is in for a major raise from the $1.945 million he earned this season. A three-year, $15-million deal that would keep him an RFA or a five-year, $28-million contract that gets him past the first year of unrestricted free agency would be tough for anybody to match on a yearly basis. The compensation for an annual offer-sheet salary between $3,364,391 and $5,046,585 is a first- and third-round draft choice.
If Johansen is the real deal, you get a player at Kesler’s salary who’s nearly eight years younger. You also get some uncertainty, because Kesler has six 20-plus goal seasons and did score 41 in his Selke season. He also plays hard and gets hurt a lot.
Then again, the Blue Jackets have more than $22 million in cap space and won’t let Johansen walk away. They would match an offer sheet. They have to. No wonder all the lips are zipped on the Kesler front. There’s a lot at stake and a lot of options.
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