PHILADELPHIA – There are probably only two people in the hockey world who were colossally disappointed with the return the Vancouver Canucks got for Ryan Kesler. One of them, we’ll call every single fan of the Vancouver Canucks. The other is Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray.
Now that is not to say that new Canucks GM Jim Benning swung and missed when he dealt Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Nick Boninio, Luca Sbisa and the 24th pick in today's NHL draft. In fact, given the circumstances, Benning got as much as he could have hoped. He was in an untenable situation and made the best of it, so good for him. And if he turns that pick and the sixth overall selection into a higher pick in this year’s draft, then the deal becomes better.
But Murray, who has what many believe was the Western Conference consolation prize in the Ryan Kesler sweepstakes in Jason Spezza, has to be muttering to himself and wondering whether he’s even going to get close to his asking price of a player, a prospect and a first-round pick. Assuming both players are healthy, Kesler is seen as a far better all-round player than Spezza, particularly against Western Conference competition, and one who can be more of a leader on a contending team.
The lesson here, kids, is this: If you have a star player who has any form of a no-trade clause and demands a one-way ticket out of town – or in the case of Spezza you at least create that impression – you are never, ever going to get equal value for him. Ever. So deal with it.
Better yet, don’t give no-trade clauses out to players when you sign them. It seems to work for the Los Angeles Kings. If you look at the veteran players who have signed or re-signed under the Dean Lombardi administration, you’ll notice that none of the core veterans signed by him have no-trade/no-movement clauses. Not Anze Kopitar, not Dustin Brown, not Marian Gaborik, not Justin Williams, not Jarret Stoll. (Neither Mike Richards, who has a limited no-trade, nor Jeff Carter, who does not, was signed by Lombardi. Drew Doughty was coming off his entry-level deal when he signed his extension in 2011 and could not negotiate one under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement.)
So what the Canucks get in exchange for Kesler is a player who is like Kesler, but not quite as good, in the 26-year-old Bonino. They get a 24-year-old defenseman in Sbisa who missed 52 games last season and has been plagued by inconsistency and an inability to handle big forwards throughout his career. His ceiling now appears to be as a No. 4 defenseman on a good team. And in the 24th pick, they get an opportunity to take a player who in reality has about a 50-50 chance of having a long-term impact in the NHL.
Given all the hoopla surrounding the Kesler trade, that seems woefully little. But the Canucks were painted into a corner here, and not just by Kesler. Former GM Mike Gillis had a hand in this disaster as well. The biggest concern in Vancouver was that Kesler was going to become Roberto Luongo, Part II, a drawn-out, very public soap opera that left fans fatigued and frustrated. Gillis had an opportunity to trade Alex Edler before his disastrous season in 2013-14 and are now stuck with an untradeable player who has five years remaining on his deal at $5 million a year. So, welcome to Vancouver, Mr. Benning.
And that, in a nutshell, is why Benning had to settle for the package he got. When you’re talking about trading Ryan Kesler, your thoughts turn to Duck prospects such as Nick Kerdiles, Sami Vatanen or Rickard Rakell and young players along the lines of Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Emerson Etem, and Devante Smith-Pelly. And when it comes to picks, what about the 10th overall selection the Ducks got from the Ottawa Senators for Bobby Ryan last year?
The simple answer is Anaheim GM Bob Murray knew he could get Kesler without parting with any of those assets, so he didn’t. Both Murray and Benning used what leverage they had – Murray had a lot and Benning had almost none – and got what now sets the benchmark for a fair deal. It’s fair because they agreed to it, not because they exchanged equal value. The fact the Canucks not only got shortchanged, but they handed an elite two-way center to a division rival speaks even more to how limited the Kesler market actually was.
It’s the same fate that will almost certainly befall Bryan Murray later today or this summer.