We are going to learn a lot about the positioning of the Vancouver Canucks franchise at this trading deadline. If Ryan Kesler has truly asked for a trade as the rumours claim, perhaps we are learning something already.
Is GM Mike Gillis ready to dip into his core to make some changes? Are players of the mind that their Stanley Cup dreams will not be fulfilled in Vancouver, and asking to be traded? Will John Tortorella’s arrival force certain players out the door?
Stay tuned, because this will be telling. And it will be complicated, on a roster that includes 10 no-trade clauses.
Full disclosure: A source in Vancouver denied to us Wednesday that Kesler will be dealt. And his agent has also denied his client has asked for a trade. But at this time of year sports writers tend to hear whatever angle best serves the team or player—we understand that—and trades made in private are always more easily conducted than those that play out in public.
But the original source of the trade request, TVA's Louis Jean, is also rock solid. So the angle is worth chewing on for a bit.
Should the Canucks move Kesler? Do they have to, if that is his request?
Well, when you hold a no-trade clause as Kesler does, it's about what the player wants. A little background on NTCs, to refresh your memory: The reason the Canucks have 10 NTCs of various levels of restriction is because Gillis has smartly been able to get players to take a little less money to sign in Vancouver. He started with the Sedins, and almost everyone else has signed for a little less money than they would get on the open market. Call it The Sedins Ceiling.
In return for taking less money, many players have been given greater control of their future with a NTC. It's pretty good management, providing you win when those players are in their prime. Once the tide starts to shift however, and those players age, it becomes nearly impossible to retool a roster that's laden with NTCs. (See: Luongo, Roberto.)
Any organization that wants to protect its reputation on the free agent market can't simply start shopping a player with whom they have made such a deal. It marks a lack of loyalty that is considered bad for business.
Now, if a contending team comes to Vancouver with an offer, Gillis is free to bring the offer to the player. "Hey, just so you know, this Cup contender has presented us with this deal. What do you think?" But if you start signing players to deals with NTCs, then shopping them behind their backs, it will get around the league.
Of course, all NTCs aren't the same, but the trend is that a player (and his agent) gives management a list of 10 teams he would accept a trade to. One problem though:
"Players tend to list as many teams as they can name that you would never want to make a deal with," a Western Conference front office voice told us this week. "For Vancouver, that might be Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Maybe Chicago. So now that 10-team list is really only about five teams, realistically, that you'd want to deal with."
If Kesler really wants out, he could expand the list the Canucks have on file. But assuming for now that he does not, that "10-team list" can realistically become a five-team list. Of those five, maybe three have available players that pique Gillis' interest. Of those three, hopefully two want to do business on a fair-value trade for a player of Kesler's worth.
It was a lack of suitors that made the Luongo trade impossible, from Gillis' standpoint. It kills a GM's leverage, and all that is left for him is to keep the player, or make a deal that doesn't smell right. That's why NTC's tend to come back to haunt the GM who hands them out.
So, would I trade Kesler if I were Gillis? In short, yes.
Vancouver has to realize that they are not a strong Stanley Cup contender any more, and not make the mistake Calgary made in overestimating their chances for all those years, and digging the hole deeper and deeper.
Kesler had spent the past two offseasons under the knife, first from hip surgery in the summer of 2012, then in 2013 there were two operations to fix a torn labrum in his shoulder as well as wrist surgery. He is highly moveable, with just two years left on his contract at $5 million each.
Vancouver has a huge drafting gap in its system, between junior players like Brendan Gaunce and Bo Horvat, and an Alex Edler who will soon turn 28. It's void that moves through an organization like a golf ball through a hose—a bubble filled for San Jose by players like Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Tomas Hertl.
It is time to cash in on some veteran Canucks, and turn them into some tomorrow. Don't be Calgary, which hung on to Miikka Kiprusoff until he retired, and stayed with Jarome Iginla for two years too long.
It takes courage, sure. But the time is now in Vancouver to be courageous.