Vancouver Canucks may have won the Ryan Kesler trade after all

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 14: Ryan Kesler
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 14: Ryan Kesler /

Four years ago, the Vancouver Canucks traded Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks following his request to be moved. In 2018, general manager Jim Benning looks a lot smarter for moving out the former franchise star at the perfect time.

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning had a tricky job when he replaced Mike Gillis in 2014, and that included shipping out disgruntled and expensive veterans all while trying to maintain a playoff-hopeful roster.

One of his first orders of business was to deal out superstar centre Ryan Kesler, who requested a trade during the season. However, the aforementioned Gillis wasn’t able to find the right deal, so Kesler stayed in Vancouver throughout the season.

Eventually, Benning had to settle for a lackluster return of defenceman Luca Sbisa, centre Nick Bonino and a 2014 first-round pick, which became Jared McCann. Bonino was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Brandon Sutter, and McCann to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson.

Now, we know most Canucks fans aren’t happy with the contracts (nor the play), of Sutter and Gudbranson. But allow Jeff Paterson of TSN 1040 to explain here the disaster the Ducks have, one in which there is almost no escape:

A hip injury to Kesler forced him to miss half the season, and he finished with just eight goals and 14 points in 44 games. Don’t want to look at the stats? The 46.9 Corsi For percentage also leaves a lot to be desired.

Kesler’s Ducks were destroyed 8-1 by the San Jose Sharks on Monday night, and they now trail 3 games to none in their best-of-seven series. Kesler only has one point through the first three games of the series.

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Now, just imagine for a moment that Kesler never asks for a trade. It’s safe to assume the Canucks would have gone with their tradition of rewarding loyal veterans with generous contracts, which means they could have been the ones stuck with that massive deal.

Instead, Benning moved out a veteran with only so many years left. And even if you’re not happy with the return, you have to credit Benning for avoiding what could have been a disastrous contract with no easy escape.

Per CapFriendly, Sutter (29), is only signed through 2020-21 with a $4.375 million cap hit — not even close to being as bad as Kesler’s $6.875 million. Did I mention Kesler is 34 and Sutter is only 29?

As for Gudbranson, his new extension was only a short-term three-year deal, and he does have the potential to morph into that top-four, shutdown blueliner the team envisions. And if not, he provides enough physicality and toughness.

For Anaheim, they saw Kesler as a potential piece to winning their second Stanley Cup in franchise history. He performed very well in his first three years, and helped the team reach two Western Conference Finals.

But along with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Kesler has battled injuries and is now in his mid-30s, and is definitely not a superstar anymore. Unless the Ducks have a miracle comeback in them, then we’re witnessing the end of their Stanley Cup window of opportunity with this core. That’s especially when you throw in how much more talent the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights and Sharks have.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are finally building up a nice young core that’s centered around Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, with Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen not far off. Could you imagine how much cap space and ice time Kesler would be taking up if he stayed here?

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At the end of the day, the Canucks made the smart call trading Kesler to a Pacific Division rival. They didn’t receive a massive return, but they essentially handcuffed the Ducks with one bad contract, all while clearing salary cap space for themselves in the future. That’s a win for the Benning administration.