The Vancouver Canucks have avoided repeating last year’s Roberto Luongo soap opera by efficiently shipping out disgruntled centre Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks, in the first of several major moves expected in the hours leading up to the NHL draft tonight in Philadelphia.
In return, the Canucks receive 26-year-old centre Nick Bonino, 24-year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa, and the Ducks’ first-round pick in tonight’s draft, 24th overall.
The trade is the first by new Canuck GM Jim Benning, who took the job a month ago only to be faced with Kesler’s wish to be traded to one of a very short list of Stanley-Cup-contending teams. This demand, of a kind once reserved for unquestionably dominant players like Ray Bourque, could have handcuffed management at a time when the Canucks’ future was in the balance.
No question, Kesler’s departure marks the end of an era, but was he ever the franchise player—even the franchise-ish player—that Canuck fans and local media occasionally tried to claim he was during his decade here?
You could never doubt his drive, his dogged desire to win, a quality that coaches everywhere love. This was clear to everyone around the league during his one-man battle against the Nashville Predators in the 2011 playoffs, part of a run that eventually took the team to Game 7 of the final. And there’s no arguing with the 41 regular-season goals he scored or the Selke trophy he won in that same magical year.
But there was the long string of injuries, along with occasional hints that he wasn’t the team cornerstone the city wanted him to be. Perhaps the most talked-about came during the second intermission of the Olympic gold-medal game played right here in his hometown at the time, when he chose to slag Team Canada goalie Roberto Luongo by saying in a TV interview that his Canuck teammate was “fighting the puck” and could be attacked as a weak link.
Solid gamesmanship, no doubt. Also, dickish.
Slowly, Vancouver’s love for Kesler seemed to cool, even as he continued to throw himself into games during the Canucks’ long, fast descent from 2011 Cup finalists to 2014 postseason rejects. With the added weight of his trade demands, some fans may well be waving goodbye with a hearty “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out”—and not because such an incident could result in more surgery, given Kesler’s medical history.
It’s a new day for the Vancouver Canucks. Yet again.