Things are never as they seem when a player with the dynamics of Ryan Kesler gets dealt away. You always feel like they should be worth more, until the cold, hard market delivers its accurate depiction of what that player’s value is at this precise moment in his career.
Nick Bonino, a real good No. 3 centre; Luca Sbisa, a solid young, second-pairing defenceman; and the 24th pick in the draft. Plus a swap of third-round picks with the Anaheim Ducks.
In this deal, Anaheim gets more today, but Vancouver kills it on the tomorrow. If that isn’t yet another sign that the rebuild is on in Vancouver, then you haven’t been watching of late.
Or you weren’t watching on Friday, as new general manager Jim Benning swung a deal that sent overpriced defenceman Jason Garrison to Tampa, along with the rights to college player Jeff Costello and a seventh-round pick, for the 50th pick in the 2014 draft. They weren’t done yet. In a third trade, the Canucks acquired forward Derek Dorsett from the New York Rangers in exchange for the 85th pick in this year’s draft. That left Vancouver with pick Nos. 6, 24, 36, 50, 66, 126, 156 and 186 this weekend.
Kesler was aging, expensive and getting worn down. Garrison was never worth the UFA deal that former GM Mike Gillis gave him. It took a new GM to walk in without any connections to either player and clear the decks, and the Sbisa acquisition clearly made the Garrison deal that much easier for Benning to make.
As for the Kesler trade, the more we think about it, the more we like it for Vancouver. There are a lot of hard miles on Kesler, who may never again be the guy who dominated Nashville and San Jose, then limped through the rest of that Stanley Cup Final in 2011 like the consummate thoroughbred. Surgical procedures have robbed Kesler of the ability to be that guy anymore — at least for prolonged stretches — and perhaps his medical file is the primary reason for a return from the Ducks that came in a tad short of what many of us expected.
And we forget that a player of Kesler’s experience has a long track record, which in this player’s case would hurt the Canucks’ position almost as much as his short list of destinations did.
Here’s the deal: Kesler wasn’t well liked by many of his teammates, and Anaheim GM Bob Murray’s intelligence would have taught him that. We’re willing to say that on the record, even though NHL players do not go on the record with confirmation of something like that.
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.
And so he did, to a contender with a solid, veteran dressing room and a strong culture that can absorb a difficult personality without fear. Besides, Kesler will make Anaheim better, and his history is that he’s happy as long as the team is winning, which the Ducks will do.
Meanwhile, the Canucks rebuild got into high gear Friday, as Benning cleared cap space for what we believe will be a concerted run at UFA goalie Jonas Hiller (or, perhaps, Ryan Miller). The GM moved two expensive 29-year-olds Friday, created salary cap space, and planned to load up on prospects at the draft later that night and on Saturday.
The acquisition of Sbisa, a 24-year-old who never quite lived up to his 19th-overall draft status, gives Benning a younger, bona fide NHL defenceman nearing his prime. Bonino is 26 and can likely jump from his No. 3 centre role in Anaheim into Kesler’s No. 2 spot in Vancouver for now.
Benning grabbed the reins big-time Friday. And there is no reason to believe he’s done dealing yet.