Although Team USA finished a disappointing fourth at the Sochi Olympics, Ryan Kesler turned in two signature moments while trying to win a medal for his country.
Kesler, a 29-year-old Vancouver Canucks forward, blocked an Ilya Kovalchuk slap shot with his hand in early action against Russia and returned to complete the game despite being in obvious pain. A week later in the bronze medal matchup with Finland, Kesler took a Jussi Jokinen drive in the chest while helping Jonathan Quick tend goal during a wild scramble.
Those two courageous plays reminded of the all-around value Kesler can provide. He and the Canucks are struggling through a subpar season – with 20 goals and 18 assists, Kesler is on pace for his lowest full-season point total since 2007-08 – but clearly the desire to compete still burns in his chest.
Thus, it’s no surprise that Kesler is suddenly one of the hottest names on the NHL market after he reportedly requested to be traded prior to the Olympic break. Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has denied it, but that’s not going to stop his fellow league executives from trying to make a deal for Kesler prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline.
Interestingly enough, Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers reported that Penguins GM Ray Shero has made a pass at Kesler before. According to Colligan, Gillis came sniffing around for Jordan Staal in the summer of 2012, and Shero asked for Kesler in return.
The Penguins don’t currently have an obvious fit for a one-for-one trade, leading some to suggest it would take a package of a promising young defenseman and a high draft pick to score Kesler, who is under contract for another two seasons at $5 million annually.
Thursday’s news that Kris Letang is unlikely to return this season from his January stroke would seemingly open a possibility for the cap-constricted Penguins to add a mid-level salary. If Pittsburgh places Letang and his $3.5 million salary on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), that would clear space for the duration of the regular season.
Also, Paul Martin is an option for LTIR, assuming his broken hand takes longer than four weeks to heal. Speaking of hand health, Kesler missed Wednesday’s Canucks game with the injury he sustained by blocking Kovalchuk’s blast at the Olympics. The extent of Kesler’s ailment hasn’t been revealed yet, but one would assume it’ll affect the bargaining if other teams come calling for him.
Injury aside, the versatile Kesler would be a superb addition to the Penguins’ forward corps for the remainder of this season and two more.
Shero has indicated he’d like to avoid a “rental” situation if possible. This could be his best chance to make a deal that will bear fruit this spring and beyond.