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Ryan Kesler is NHL trade deadline's most intriguing chip

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Ryan Kesler could help a lot of teams, but will he really be moved? (USATSI)
Ryan Kesler could help a lot of teams, but will he really be moved? (USATSI)

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We're getting to the point now where the NHL's trade deadline can be broken down into hours instead of days. So it's time to get the popcorn ready. If anything is going to happen, it has to happen rather soon.

There are a lot of big names on the table it seems, which makes this time of year fun, even if 3 p.m. ET Wednesday could pass without the litany of blockbusters that seem possible at this point.

The biggest chips believed to be most readily available are Thomas Vanek of the New York Islanders, Matt Moulson of the Buffalo Sabres and perhaps most intriguing of all, Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks.

Kesler is a bit of the surprise player available at this time of year. It only came out after the Olympics that he had reportedly requested a trade from the team he's spent his entire career with. Though Kesler has made some denials since those reports, it seems more and more likely he's headed out of Vancouver and probably somewhere in the Eastern Conference.

Reports have tabbed the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings as possible destinations.

Of all the teams reportedly looking to offload big-name players, Vancouver is dealing from the position of most strength. Kesler still has two years remaining on his deal that comes with a relatively affordable $5 million cap hit. The Canucks are also still mostly in the playoff picture, though have begun fading a bit. They don't have to deal the 29-year-old forward.

The Canucks would be right to get everything they possibly can out of the star center, who has played primarily on the wing this year. The former Selke Trophy winner still has quite a bit of value thanks to his contract and versatility.

Though he does not defend at the level that made him a Selke Trophy winner in 2010-11, Kesler is still good at both ends of the ice and can fit into a variety of roles, whether it be top-six center or a No. 3 on a deeper team. He's also a special teams ace, who can play on both the power play and penalty kill.

With 21 goals this season , a 40-goal campaign in his recent past and that Selke pedigree, Kesler should command a rather large return.

he would make a lot of teams better, which is why it sounds like both teams from the state of Pennsylvania are making rather large pitches.

The Penguins, a team in severe need of any amount of depth, have already made a rather large offer according to Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. That reported offer included forward Brandon Sutter, one of prized young defensemen Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin, and 2014 draft picks including first- and third-round picks. Rossi also reported the team may be willing to soften its stance on previously untouchable defense prospect Derrick Pouliot.

It's an aggressive offer, but the Canucks seem to be wisely waiting to see what else comes along, just in case. Holding out for an elite prospect, as Pouliot may be, on top of a first-round pick and a roster player is what any team in the Canucks' position can and should do.

The Pens have to be careful with dealing away young defensemen, however. Kris Letang's health status definitely complicates how Pittsburgh should be planning for the future, but there's no question few teams that could benefit more from adding Kesler than the Penguins.

After the top two lines centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, there is a massive drop-off in talent at the third line in Pittsburgh. The numbers show that pretty clearly, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a trio of Taylor Pyatt, Tanner Glass and Sutter doesn't match up well with a lot of third lines in the league.

The Penguins, despite their success in the regular season, don't appear to have a Stanley Cup-caliber roster as a result.

Imagine putting Kesler, who would be a top two line center on almost any other team, as a possible third-line guy. It takes pressure of Crosby and Malkin's lines and is an instant shot in the arm to a lineup that just isn't in the least bit deep. It doesn't make them an instant favorite, but it is a massive improvement from what they are now.

The Philadelphia Flyers have also reportedly made a push for Kesler. Details of that offer, if one has been made, are unclear, but based on the reported criteria the Canucks seek in a deal, the Flyers would have to part with one of their solid youngsters like Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier more than likely.

Though Kesler would help Philadelphia in the defensive end, it would seem a more pressing need is on the blue line, meaning spending big on Kesler may be counterproductive in the present and future for Philadelphia. This is the Flyers, though, you never can tell what they'll do next. That, and Kesler seems like the type of player they'd covet.

Kesler does have a no-trade clause, but it is believed he would accept a deal to either of the Pennsylvania squads.

There are a few wild cards in the mix including the Red Wings. General manager Ken Holland isn't tipping his hand as to what he will or won't do. Another one is the Chicago Blackhawks, perpetually in search of a No. 2 center. The defending Cup champs popped up as rumored to be interested, but after the club dealt prospect Brandon Pirri to Florida for draft picks, they may not have the goods (at least that they'd be willing to part with) to nab Kesler.

The Canucks have a real opportunity to bring back some tremendous value for a player that has meant a lot to its franchise. GM Mike Gillis isn't necessarily in need of rebuilding the whole roster, but if he can get younger and build a better base of prospects through this deal, it's a near no-brainer.

If anything happens on the Kesler front, it would likely be at the last minute as desperation could kick in for a team seeing an opportunity to add such a valuable piece. That's going to make Kesler Watch the most intriguing item to follow as the deadline rapidly approaches.

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