Anyone who saw the Chicago Blackhawks play throughout the majority of the 2013-14 regular season could see that the team had a weakness at a key spot.
They had one of the best all-around players in the league as their No. 1 center in Jonathan Toews, but they simply did not have an adequate No. 2 center.
This issue plagued them often, and while they were good enough to get to overtime of the seventh game of the Western Conference Final, a competent No. 2 center might have been all they needed to get past the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings had scoring from all four lines and were particularly strong at the center position with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards. The Blackhawks have some work to do if they want to equal the Kings in that area and get back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Now, one of the top centers in the league is available. Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks reportedly asked to be moved prior to last season's trade deadline, per TVA Sports' Louis Jean, and he reiterated that request to new general manager Jim Benning, per Pro Hockey Talk's Jason Brough.
Kesler would seem to be an ideal candidate to man the No. 2 center position. Like Toews, he is a former Frank Selke Award winner.
He is a tough, hungry player who knows how to go to the net to collect dirty goals and also has a strong shot that allows him to score from distance. Kesler scored a career-high 41 goals in the 2010-11 season, the same year that the Canucks got to the Stanley Cup Final but fell to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
He is a solid passer who has had as many as 50 assists in a season. He reached that total in 2009-2010, when the Canucks were still in the ascendant.
Kesler has also had two stints playing with Patrick Kane on the U.S. Olympic team. The pair developed an affinity for playing with each other at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a rapport that continued last February in Sochi.
Kane would appear to be the primary beneficiary of a solid No. 2 center joining the Blackhawks. While head coach Joel Quenneville has Toews and Kane play together on the power play and is not averse to having them play together in crucial postseason games, he likes to split up his two best offensive players in order to make the Blackhawks more difficult to defend on a game-to-game basis.
So on the surface it looks quite appealing to bring in a player of Kesler's magnitude to improve the Blackhawks. However, things are rarely that black-and-white when a potential trade is being discussed.
Kesler, 29, has not been at the top of his game for the last two seasons. He has struggled with injuries for several years and has had both hip and shoulder surgeries.
Kesler played in just 17 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and was held to four goals and 13 points with a 48.3 Corsi for percentage, according to ExtraSkater.com. Last season, Kesler scored 25 goals and 18 assists in 77 games, along with a 52.4 Corsi for percentage.
While he was able to stay in the lineup for much of the season, he suffered several huge hits, including one from Winnipeg's Jim Slater near the end of the season. Slater slammed into Kesler's knee, and the joint appeared to twist. Kesler avoided serious injury on the play, but it could have been disastrous.
The point is that Kesler has had several major injuries and has just avoided other serious damage. It's fair to ask whether Kesler has reached a point in his career where injuries will only get worse from this point forward.
If the Blackhawks are convinced that Kesler can stay healthy, they will have to work out a suitable trade with the Canucks. Rest assured it would come at a big price.
The Blackhawks don't want to give up young stud Brandon Saad or a lightning-quick player like Teuvo Teravainen, whom they believe will be a future star. Chicago Sun-Times beat reporter Mark Lazerus described any deal including either one of those players as a "non-starter."
The Canucks would want a package for Kesler, and a youngster with a bright future would almost certainly be included. So might a current player like Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy. Of the three, Leddy might be the easiest to let go because he still makes mistakes that tend to annoy Quenneville, but he is a gifted skater with a strong upside.
Sharp may have had a somewhat disappointing playoff run but is one of the best goal scorers on the team. Oduya has been a very dependable defenseman and was a key part of the 2013 Stanley Cup run.
The cost of bringing in Kesler could be a lot more than the team wants to give up.
A healthy Kesler might be worth such a sacrifice, especially considering he has two years left on a cap-friendly deal that pays him $5 million per season, per CapGeek.com.
But Kesler's physical and hard-hitting style has already impacted the big center. It seems likely that injuries are going to follow him for several more seasons, which would make a trade quite risky for any team that would have to pay such a high price to bring him into the fold.