ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ryan Kesler didn’t want to wait around while the Vancouver Canucks rebuild. He wants to win a Stanley Cup now, and the Anaheim Ducks believe they’re on the way after landing the star centre.
Anaheim acquired Kesler from the Canucks on Friday in a draft-day trade for centre Nick Bonino, defenceman Luca Sbisa and the 24th overall pick.
The 29-year-old Kesler has spent his entire 10-season career in Vancouver, compiling six 20-goal seasons and 392 points while playing an agitating, physical style. The two-time U.S. Olympian won the Selke Trophy in 2011 as the NHL’s best defensive forward.
“I’m going to Anaheim to win a championship,” said Kesler, who waived his no-trade clause. “That’s going to be my sole goal, and my team’s sole goal.”
After the best regular season in franchise history ended with a second-round playoff exit, the Pacific Division champion Ducks finally completed their long pursuit of an elite NHL centre to lead their second line behind captain Ryan Getzlaf, the runner-up for the Hart Trophy.
The Ducks struggled against the Los Angeles Kings’ vaunted depth down the middle during their playoff series, so general manager Bob Murray made sure his team matches up better with the Stanley Cup champs by adding one of the best two-way centres in hockey.
“You have to give up good players to get a player like Ryan,” said Murray, named the NHL’s top GM earlier this week. “We felt it was a time to make a little bit of a move to improve our hockey team. It’s not easy, but we feel like we’re a better team than we were yesterday. I don’t know how much closer we are (to a Cup), but we’ll find out come October and November.”
The Ducks even kept the 10th overall pick in the draft, a product of their trade last year sending forward Bobby Ryan to Ottawa. Anaheim sent a third-round selection—No. 85—to the Canucks, who flipped that pick to the New York Rangers for rugged forward Derek Dorsett. Anaheim also got a third-round pick in 2015 from Vancouver.
Eight years ago, the Ducks acquired defenceman Chris Pronger in a summer trade that catapulted an already good team to its first Stanley Cup title in 2007. Kesler isn’t ready to predict a similar scenario, but that’s what he’s hoping.
“It’s tough comparing yourself to a Stanley Cup-winning team, but there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” Kesler said. “I think I can fit into this team and be a good No. 2 behind Ryan Getzlaf. We have size, speed and grit. I’d say that Getzlaf is one of the best centres in the game. I’m going to come in behind him and do my job.”
Kesler still stings from 2011, when he scored 19 points in 25 playoff games as the Canucks reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals before losing to Boston. Kesler knows he’s closer to a title in Anaheim than he would have been with the Canucks, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Vancouver is under entirely new management with President Trevor Linden, general manager Jim Benning and coach Willie Desjardins.
“I hate losing, and that season was painful,” Kesler said of the Canucks’ 12th-place finish in the West last season. “The fact that they’re in a rebuild and looking to get younger, and years away from being a contender, it was just time for me to move on and win. Four years is a little too long for me.”
The Ducks also want to win now, and Anaheim also tried to land Kesler at the trade deadline last season, but couldn’t reach a deal. Kesler knew the Ducks had been after him, but still was surprised at the swiftness of Friday’s deal.
Kesler, who has two years and $10 million left on his contract, has struggled with injuries for the past three seasons. He still appeared in 77 games for the Canucks last season, scoring 25 goals.
Along with his defence and scoring abilities, Kesler is an elite faceoff winner, an area where the Ducks struggled at times during the post-season.
“We’re better on faceoffs automatically,” Murray said. “Ryan does it all. We have a great 1-2 punch up the middle.”
Bonino developed into a steady centre for the Ducks, getting 22 goals and 27 assists in 77 games last season before scoring eight points in 13 playoff games.
Sbisa could use a fresh start after falling out of favour with coach Bruce Boudreau and playing in just two post-season games. The Swiss defenceman struggled with injuries and never reclaimed a significant role in Anaheim.