Sunday, February 14, 2016

Flyers pursuing Canucks center Ryan Kesler?

Last week, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he didn’t envision making any major moves before Wednesday’s trade deadline.

Flyers pursuing Canucks center Ryan Kesler?

Canucks center Ryan Kesler. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)
Canucks center Ryan Kesler. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)

Last week, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he didn’t envision making any major moves before Wednesday’s trade deadline.

His stance apparently changed over the weekend, once word leaked that center Ryan Kesler may be on his way out of Vancouver.

Two league sources told the Daily News that the Flyers have tabled a "substantial offer” to try and pry Kesler from the Canucks. They have also asked about acquiring Vancouver defenseman Alexander Edler, who is reportedly on the market, as part of a larger trade - though that combined price is steep.

At this point, a little more than 24 hours shy of Wednesday’s 3 o’clock finish line, any deal of this magnitude seems rather unlikely. There are numerous obstacles in the way.

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For one, any trade involving Kesler would be a team-altering hockey trade, and not your standard “rental”-type deal often consummated around the deadline. This blockbuster would also require serious salary moving both ways for each team remain cap compliant - and they usually take time to put together.

Plus, the Flyers clearly are not the only player pursuing Kesler. Numerous teams, including Pittsburgh, Toronto, Chicago, Boston and even Columbus have inquired with Canucks general manager Mike Gillis about Kesler.

According to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Penguins view the Flyers as their chief competition for Kesler. The report says the Penguins have offered Brandon Sutter, Simon Despres, and their first round pick. In such hot pursuit of Kesler, Penguins general manager Ray Shero has even softened his stance on letting go top defensive prospect Derrick Pouliot, a first round pick in 2012 - perhaps with knowledge of the Flyers’ most-recent offer.

“Shero is said to be as aggressive in this pursuit of Kesler as he has any player at seven previous deadline periods,” the Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi reported

When Shero wants something, he usually find a way to get it. Last year, Calgary forward Jarome Iginla chose to be traded to Pittsburgh instead of Boston at the last minute.

It is important to keep in mind here that Kesler did not request a trade. He has lucrative, off-ice sponsorships in Vancouver that earn him well above his $5 million salary. This would also signifiy the Canucks are willing to pull the chute on their injury-plagued season with 19 games left despite being only two points out of a playoff spot. As we saw last season with Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, Gillis is surely in a position of leverage.

However, a source says former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was actually among those who became close to Kesler with Team USA at the Olympics and passed on word that he might not be entirely happy in Vancouver.

Kesler, 29, holds the keys in this negotiation with a full no-trade clause. The Penguins are reportedly his first choice destination, with Philadelphia serving as his backup plan. Numerous reports stated Kesler - a Michigan native - is not interested in a trade to another Canadian market.

The price for Kesler, who has two full seasons left at a cap-certain number of $5 million, remains high heading into Wednesday. It is very possible Kesler remains in Vancouver. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Monday night that the Canucks are seeking an established NHL center between the ages of 20-25, preferably a forward prospect, and a first round pick in exchange.

For the Flyers, that would likely mean parting ways with a center like Brayden Schenn. Though Holmgren does not have a burning desire to trade anyone on his roster, reiterating Monday he likes his team as assembled, the Flyers would much rather move Schenn than Sean Couturier.

It is unclear what Gillis would require to part with both Kesler and Edler in the same deal. Edler, 27, is in the first year of a 6-year, $30 million deal which also provides a cap-certain hit of $5 million, while the cap is rising significantly next season. He, too, holds a no-trade clause.

Edler was a true bright spot for Sweden at the Olympics, often playing ahead of Coyotes star Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He is the puck-moving defenseman the Flyers truly need to add.

As for Kesler, a one-time 40-goal scorer, the Flyers’ need for him is less pressing. Sure, he is a consummate, two-way forward with a slew of intangibles and legitimate scoring prowess. But they also already have one big-name player, Vinny Lecavalier, playing out of position on the wing because of a logjam down the middle. 

Plus, Schenn - set to become a much cheaper restricted free agent this summer - has similar points this season as Kesler, despite being 7 years younger.

With the 5th-most wins in the NHL since Nov. 7 (28-14-5), the Flyers are seemingly just as content staying put at the deadline.

Yet, they are involved - again. They love Kesler’s competitiveness at both ends of the ice. In 2006, Flyers general manager Bob Clarke signed Kesler to an offer sheet, stunning the market with a hostile offer for relatively unknown player at the time. The Flyers' next general manager has watched Kesler blossom into one of the NHL’s most well-rounded players.

Perhaps, the Flyers could be on the scent simply to make sure rival Pittsburgh doesn’t become a deeper team overnight without significant cost. We'll see who's bluffing.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

Daily News Staff Writer
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