While Kesler was just one of many Canucks that didn’t live up to the expectations placed on them, when you’re a star player that scored 41 goals the previous year and carried your team through parts of the 2011 playoffs, people notice a lot more when you don’t deliver when it matters the most.
Many even went as far as to suggest the Canucks trade Kesler in order to shake up the roster and alter the dynamic of the team heading into next season.
After all, Kesler has a no-trade clause that kicks in before the start of next season, so if general manager Mike Gillis were to try to rebrand the Canucks by dealing his second-line center, now would be the perfect time to do so.
However, now that we’ve received the news that Kesler was injured to the point that he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder and he’ll need approximately six months to recover from that surgery, a trade involving him seems about as likely as a trade involving the Sedin twins.
Not only will the rest of the NHL likely shy away from trading for a player that is coming off a serious surgery and won’t be ready to play for the first month of the 2012-13 season, but any team that might still inquire about a potential trade isn’t going to offer fair value for a player as good as Kesler.
This is one of the top 20 centers in the world and a player that is also the reigning Selke Trophy winner. Even if he was completely healthy and the Canucks were going to trade him to shake things up, they’d need to get a huge return in order to make it worth their while.
With that being said, Gillis and company should be concerned about one of their best players undergoing a surgical procedure for the second straight offseason.
Kesler is a player that competes at full speed all the time.
It’s an admirable quality to have, but it also lends itself to injuries, which he has found out the hard way. Gillis acknowledged this in a recent radio interview on TEAM 1040 and also stated that the team will work with Kesler to help him better protect himself.
This could mean a number of things.
It could mean they will encourage Kesler to play a slightly less reckless style of play during the regular season, or it could simply mean that they’ll put their foot down and not let him return to game action too early from this surgery like they did at the beginning of this past season.
It could also mean that Kesler’s days of being a full-time center in the NHL may be numbered.
It’s no secret that Vancouver will be looking for a third-line center this summer anyway. Perhaps now that they know how long Kesler will be out of the lineup, they’ll look for someone to not only fill a checking role, but to also potentially take the pressure off Kesler and play center on the second line and the second power-play unit.
Of course, these players are almost as hard to find as a player like Kesler is. The Canucks had a potentially great offensive center in Cody Hodgson, but they couldn’t trust him in defensive situations and he wanted out of Vancouver, so that wasn’t going to work out in the long run.
At the very least, Gillis and company will need to do their part in protecting Kesler by acquiring better players for him to play with.
They thought they had solved that problem when they traded for David Booth last year, but so far, it hasn’t worked out. Of course, Booth and Kesler still haven’t played on the same NHL team for a full season, so that trade may workout in the end, but Gillis can’t rely on that alone to help Kesler in the future.
Solving both Kesler’s injury concerns and the issue of the players around him won’t be easy either.
No 27-year-old that’s had huge amounts of success playing a certain way his entire life is going to be able to adjust the way he plays or even change his position overnight and simply not miss a beat, even if he has played on the wing before.
In addition, the 2012 free-agent market for top-six forwards, center or wing, is fairly thin this summer. It also won’t be easy convincing another elite center to stay in Vancouver long-term if they are going to potentially be stuck behind Kesler and Henrik Sedin on the third line, if the Canucks don’t move Kesler to the wing.
That’s not to say that every other NHL player would complain as much as Hodgson’s handlers apparently did, but it’s still worth considering.
The summer of 2012 will be one of recovery for Ryan Kesler.
In the meantime, the rest of the Canucks organization needs to recover and quickly prepare itself to help its star forward have a more healthy and prosperous season both directly and indirectly by acquiring more helpful linemates for him to play with.