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Ryan Kesler deal another feather in Ducks GM Bob Murray's cap

Photo: Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated

A healthy Ryan Kesler will give the Ducks a versatile, two-way center who plays with an edge.

On Tuesday, Bob Murray left Las Vegas with the first General Manager of the Year award of his NHL career.

On Friday, he took a significant step toward a repeat.

Murray pulled off the first big deal of what's expected to be a busy NHL Draft weekend, securing coveted center Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward Nick Bonino, blueliner Luca Sbisa and the 24th overall selection tonight. The two teams also swapped third rounders.

If it's not an outright steal, it's spectacular asset management on Murray's part. He sold high on Bonino, a 26-year-old who is coming off a breakthrough 22-goal, 49-point campaign (abetted by a lot of power play time with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) before his new three-year, $5.7 million deal kicks in next season. He moved a spare part in Sbisa, an overpaid, underperforming depth defender who was a healthy scratch for much of the playoffs. And in sending the obligatory first rounder, he convinced the Canucks to take his own late-round selection instead of the much more desirable 10th overall pick he acquired last summer from Ottawa.

And maybe more important, the league's top farm system was left intact. Murray managed to get his man without parting with Hampus Lindholm or William Karlsson or Sami Vatanen or Richard Rakell.

Not that he shipped some hockey tape and a bag of practice pucks to Vancouver, but all things considered this was a surprisingly low-pain move for the Ducks.

In exchange, Murray fills his most pressing need--a viable second-line center--with a two-time Olympian and three-time Selke Trophy finalist who is under contract for two more seasons at a $5 million cap hit. That's a bargain price for a player capable of tilting the balance of power in the conference.

"He’s a hard-working guy who’s tough to play against and plays in all situations,” Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise said of his Team USA teammate earlier this week. "He’s a big-time player. A team that gets him it will [get] a great addition."

No kidding. This is a move that Murray probably regrets not having made at the March trade deadline when it could have helped bolster what became an aborted playoff run by the Western Conference champion Ducks. But if Anaheim was a favorite to capture the Stanley Cup heading into that postseason, they look like an even stronger choice today. A refocused Kesler is expected to bounce back from a down season that saw him score 25 goals and 18 assists in 77 games. And Murray is left with plenty of cap space to improve his roster either now, or closer to the 2015 deadline.

That's an award-worthy piece of work.

Now that this deal is out of the way, the expectation is that we'll see another significant move or two ahead of the draft. Teams that lost out on the Kesler bidding, including St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia, will turn their attention to Jason Spezza. And with two first rounders in his pocket,  Vancouver's Jim Benning is in a better spot to move up from sixth in the draft order. The rookie GM is going to get roasted by an agitated fanbase after this deal, but all will be forgiven if he's able to package those picks and move up to No. 1.

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