VANCOUVER – Ryan Kesler will remain a Vancouver Canuck, at least for the rest of this season.
Kesler did not change jerseys at Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline after general manager Mike Gillis was unable to move him despite several reports that potential deals were in play for the veteran centre.
As a result, the Canucks made just one minor move, sending depth defenceman Raphael Diaz to the New York Rangers for a 2015 fifth-round draft choice. The deal paled in comparison to the one a day earlier that shipped former No. 1 goaltender Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers in a four-player package.
“We entertained multiple (other) offers on multiple situations today, and none of them fit our expectations or our long-term needs,” said Gillis during a conference call.
Earlier Wednesday, while speaking to reporters in Phoenix, Gillis sidestepped the question of whether Vancouver’s ownership group, led by Francesco Aquilini, nixed a potential Kesler trade. But he did not deny that the owners blocked a deal.
“Ownership is involved in all kinds of decisions that we make,” said Gillis. “And when you are in a situation like that at trade deadline day and the draft they are going to be involved as you advance situations and evaluate situations, like any other business. It’s not uncommon. In fact, it’s encouraged, because you need everybody in alignment when you are doing these kinds of things.”
The GM said Canucks management examined different short-term, medium-term and long-term possibilities. But unlike with the Luongo trade, which sent him to Florida along with minor-leaguer Steven Anthony in exchange for Shawn Matthias and goaltender Jacob Markstrom, deals at the deadline were not palatable to the Canucks.
“The situation with Florida was one that fit our vision of how we were going to try and get younger and more diversified with our group,” said Gillis. “As far as (Wednesday) went, a variety of discussions that we had involving numerous different scenarios, none of them really fit with that vision. And, we have very high expectations in Vancouver. Our fans have very high expectations, and none of the opportunities fit with our expectations today.”
The expectations have increased in a sub-par season in which the Canucks are battling for a playoff spots three years after coming within one game of winning the Stanley Cup over the Boston Bruins. Vancouver has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the past two years.
By standing pat with forwards, Gillis has not offered any solutions designed to end Vancouver’s season-long offensive woes. The scoring struggles weren’t helped by an injury to winger Daniel Sedin, who remains out indefinitely after getting hurt in Sunday’s Heritage Classic.
Gillis indicated he proceeded cautiously because he was wary of being burned.
“When you’re under-performing like we are, there are lots of different teams that want to take advantage of that situation,” said Gillis. “We had calls from lots of different teams about lots of different situations.”
Although the Canucks are battling for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference, Gillis avoided picking up any veterans as rentals to aid the playoff push. In the past two seasons, rental deals for the likes of forwards Derek Roy and Samuel Pahlsson did not pay off.
“We didn’t see giving up draft picks at this point in time as being part of a plan that fits with our long-term vision,” said Gillis, who has been heavily criticized for a poor draft record. “We’ve been in that position before. Prices are always really high. We just didn’t feel that was part of our long-range plan.”
Meanwhile, Diaz, a pending unrestricted free agent who played for Switzerland during the 2014 Olympics, left the Canucks after being acquired just a month earlier from the Montreal Canadiens for winger Dale Weise. Diaz recorded two points in six games with Vancouver.
“I have been traded again, 4weeks, 3 nhl (organizations), 1 Olympics, this is hockey…..,” Diaz wrote on his Twitter account.
In a separate tweet, Diaz said he was looking forward to playing for the Rangers, who are now guided by former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.
Diaz was acquired at a time when the Canucks were missing injured defencemen, including Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev, who have since returned. By trading Diaz, Gilis avoided losing him for nothing if he signs with another team as a free agent this summer.
“He was brought in because we had some injuries on defence, but also because we liked him as a player and we liked his skill set,” said Gillis. “But today, there were a couple of teams that were after him. We felt that it was important that we get something in return.”
Although Gillis was not able to trade any core players, he still plans to revamp his roster in the off-season by acquiring more draft picks and young, entry-level players through trades and free agency.
“Everything’s possible and there’s a lot of things that are gonna change between now and July 1, both in our place and teams around the league,” he said. “What we’re gonna do is what we always do, which is to be in a position to make every effort to improve our team (as) best we can.”
The Luongo trade and the discarding of most of the remainder of his 12-year, $64-million contract, which still has eight years to run, will give Gillis more cash for free agency. Although the Canucks will still pay $800,000 of the goaltender’s annual salary, the NHL salary cap is also due to increase.
“We have additional cap space and a little more flexibility now, so we’ll have to see who’s available and what the costs are on July 1st,” said Gillis. “We fully intend to make more moves.”