Why Ducks will nab Spezza, not Kesler

June 17, 2014, 4:37 PM

Despite the sad state of the unrestricted free agent market these days, there are nevertheless several elite centres available, when you consider that Jason Spezza, Ryan Kesler, and Joe Thornton could all be had via trade. Throw in Thornton’s San Jose teammate Patrick Marleau, who can play centre or wing, and that’s a lot of talent.

The problem? Each of those four players has some type of a no-movement clause attached to his contract, which means their general managers will be working from a short list, of likely no more than six to 10 teams.

“And I’m sure they all have the same teams on their list,” said an Eastern Conference scout. That will give bargaining strength to those GMs of preferred teams who make the superstars’ destination lists.

Another problem? Three of the aforementioned players are in the Pacific Division, so you can scratch L.A., Anaheim, San Jose (Kesler) and Dallas off the trade destinations for the GMs, who would only deal a player of Thornton’s or Kesler’s talent within the Division if the deal were simply too good to refuse. All of those cities tend to make most trade lists submitted by players.

An example: When Vancouver traded Cory Schneider at the draft a year ago, they asked for the Edmonton Oilers’ first round pick (No. 7), plus a prospect (believed to be defenceman Martin Marincin). When that was too rich for the Oilers, the Canucks dealt Schneider across the league to New Jersey straight across for the No. 9 pick—nothing else.

The one temptation, however, will be Anaheim. Not only do the Ducks own perhaps the largest stock of sub-22-year-old talent in the NHL, they also have two first-round picks plus two seconds in the upcoming draft. No NHL team has more trade bait heading into this draft, we believe.

Prediction: Anaheim GM Bob Murray will forgo paying the Pacific premium and deal for Spezza, giving the Sens back the first-round pick they gave Anaheim in the Bobby Ryan deal. Even if Kesler may be a better fit in Anaheim behind Ryan Getzlaf. Just our hunch.

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When you think of all the teams that are looking for a big, elite centremen, Thornton should be gold in the trade market for Sharks GM Doug Wilson.

“I can’t believe they’re even considering trading him,” another scout told us Tuesday. “He’s one of the premier passers in the game today, and he still gets pucks to guys who are shocked he could ever get it to them.”

Thornton turns 35 next month, and has three years left at $6.75 million. He’d look great in Toronto, where we’ve always thought Tyler Bozak was forced to play above his head as a first-line centre.

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No one was surprised to see Ville Leino waived by the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday for the purposes of a compliance buyout. Now we’re waiting for Brad Richards, who the Rangers may have placed on waivers by the time you read this.

But David Booth? We all knew it was possible, but buying out Booth ends a chapter written by the former administration of the Canucks, one that new GM Jim Benning was not willing to continue. Ex-GM Mike Gillis was hoping for the pre Mike Richards–hit David Booth, but instead got a player who doesn’t like traffic a whole lot and offers an inconsistent offensive game that has somehow deteriorated as the 29-year-old has reached his prime years.

Rule 48 has virtually eliminated backside hits like the one Richards clocked Booth with on Oct. 24, 2009. It’s too late for Booth though—his game was never the same after that hit. Pre-hit, he averaged 0.56 points per game. Post-hit, he has averaged 0.44 points per game. During his time in Vancouver, Booth’s PPG was 0.38 in the regular season with just one assist in five playoff games.

As of today, the Canucks are paying Booth, Roberto Luongo and Keith Ballard not to play for them, John Tortorella not to coach them, and Gillis not to be the Canucks GM. Ouch!

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Evander Kane’s name is out there for sure, though teams are a bit skeptical about the deal considering Winnipeg’s conservative nature historically. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has never been a big trader, but considering Winnipeg’s chances of landing big-name free agents, you can’t blame him for hanging on to the good players he has.

Trouble does seem to follow Kane around though—he’s fighting an accusation of assault in Vancouver—but he doesn’t even turn 23 until Aug. 2. Typically, a young player goes to his second team and hears a lot of the same advice the first team was offering—but takes heed in the second stop. It will be tricky to move Evander Kane and not trade away the best player in the deal.

Also watch for Dustin Byfuglien in Winnipeg. He likes to play defence, but head coach Paul Maurice sees him as a forward, except for on the power play. That may cause some friction, and in a market starving for D-men, GMs will call Cheveldayoff about Big Buff.

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