Ryan Kesler has turned out to be one of the most sought-after players leading up to the 2014 NHL trade deadline. Despite what is slowly sounding to be more and more like a plan to reshape the look of the franchise, it remains a wonder why the Vancouver Canucks would be interested in moving Kesler unless reports indicating he requested a trade are true. But while that remains up in the air, we are pretty confident about one thing: multiple teams are interested in paying a hefty price for the nearly 30-year-old centre.
As widely reported, the Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and most notably the Pittsburgh Penguins have expressed considerable interest in Kesler. The Penguins are so interested, in fact, that they supposedly offered up Brandon Sutter, Simon Despres and a first round draft pick. TSN indicated this week that one of Brayden Schenn or Sean Couterier would likely be sent packing to Vancouver in the event the Flyers won the Kesler sweepstakes. The asking price being directed towards Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would be no different for the Red Wings with a bundle of prospects and draft picks the more likely package out of Detroit.
But we must realize that Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Detroit aren’t the only cities Ryan Kesler could wind up in, nor are they the only cities housing interested teams. Renowned hockey insider Darren Dreger wasn’t afraid to stir that pot on Monday.
Like many teams, Leafs called Canucks with interest in Kesler. Understandably, Van is still looking for mammoth return.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 3, 2014
Ryan Kesler: A Fit In Toronto?
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team in search of an upgrade defensively. They’re a pain to watch without the puck; the team is regularly out-shot by a wide margin and suffers with possession. At the same time, the Leafs are a team that is looking to upgrade at centre ice. These are not new reports — a defenceman is something general manager Dave Nonis and his staff have been in need of all season long, while an offensive centreman is something the organization has longed for since Mats Sundin’s departure to, ironically, the Vancouver Canucks more than five years ago.
What is Ryan Kesler? A scoring-yet-defensive centreman, otherwise known as a two-way forward. While adding a reliable stay-at-home defenceman to the back end would be optimal, the addition of a defensively stable forward wouldn’t be a bad idea either. After all, placing Ryan Kesler on the second line with Dave Bolland skating down the middle of the third line would provide the Maple Leafs with a tremendous two-way, one-two punch at centre ice.
Kesler, a two-time 70-plus-point scorer who averaged .76 points per game (13 in total) in an very abbreviated 17-game campaign last season, has proven that he can score. In his second 70-point season, 2010-11, Kesler managed 41 goals. There is no doubt he would bring the secondary scoring THW’s Nathan Kanter says the Maple Leafs need in order to succeed in the month of March.
Not only would Kesler provide defensive stability up front but he would also be a source for the offence any team could always use. Combine that with his acceptable contract of $5 million per season at two more seasons and you have yourself an attractive fit.
Should The Leafs Push For Ryan Kesler?
That’s great and all until you consider that some professional sports general managers will do just about anything to get their hands on a hot commodity (see: Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Kesler). Nonis must be wary of two things and how they relate to one another: the situation his team is in and the Vancouver Canucks’ asking price for Kesler.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a situation where they can offer up a good chunk of their future and remain successful. GM Ray Shero has a track record of success with an owner that believes in his model. Further, the team has plenty of assets to continue on the road to the Stanley Cup not only this season but years down the road even if they lost Sutter, Despres and a first round pick. The Leafs are not in the same boat.
Kesler, 29, would be an undisputed upgrade over Nazem Kadri. Kadri has potential but, if you’re the optimistic type, has yet to show what he is fully capable of. He will never be more than a second line centre and that could very well be considered generous. While Kadri’s offensive abilities may grow, it’s highly unlikely his defensive play will ever reach the point of Kesler’s. That said, Kadri is a talented player but one that would be worth surrendering if that’s what it means to bring Kesler to town. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs it would cost much greater than Kadri and a draft pick to acquire Ryan Kesler, likely more on the side of Kadri, a first round draft pick and one of Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly. Simply put: No.
Ryan Kesler is certainly an option worth exploring if you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it’s not an option worth selecting. The Leafs are not in a situation to throw away a chunk of their future, and it’s a boatload of such deals that have put them in this very situation.
Lukas, a student at the University of Ottawa, covers the Toronto Maple Leafs on a part-time basis for The Hockey Writers. Contact Lukas at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @LukasHardonk.