August 27, 2014
LAS VEGAS — The Blackhawks, as ever, are in the market for a second-line center to play alongside Patrick Kane. The Vancouver Canucks, again, are contemplating dealing Ryan Kesler, who wants out.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday that the Hawks and Anaheim Ducks have emerged as the front-runners for Kesler as Friday’s NHL draft — the busiest trade day of the year — approaches. The Canucks can afford to be demanding because Kesler has two years left on his contract at $5 million per season, a relative bargain for a former 40-goal scorer. Patrick Sharp’s name has been thrown around quite a bit the last couple of weeks as the player most likely to be dangled by the Hawks. He’s in the best shape of his life and is coming off a career year with 34 goals and 44 assists, but he’ll be 33 in December, and the Hawks’ most pressing need is at center, not wing. As good as he is and as important as he is in Chicago, his trade value might never be higher.
A source told the Sun-Times that the Canucks want either Brandon Saad or Teuvo Teravainen included in any package, which likely would be a nonstarter for the Hawks. Saad has emerged as a star in the making, a two-way forward in the Marian Hossa mold who’s only 21. And Teravainen is the most prized prospect in the Hawks’ system, the gifted playmaker the team hopes will eventually fill that second-line center role for years to come.
Whether it’s just a negotiating tactic or a hard demand remains to be seen. It could come down to what the Ducks (or another suitor) offer or if the Canucks are willing to accept a lesser prospect than Teravainen or a different package completely.
Kesler has a no-movement clause in his contract (as do Sharp and nearly every other Hawks star), but the Ottawa Sun reported he would approve a trade to either Chicago or Pittsburgh.
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said after the season that the team didn’t need any ‘‘wholesale changes,’’ but he told the Sun-Times earlier this month that he wouldn’t rule out trading for a center if the right opportunity presented itself. With Kesler, the Ottawa Senators’ Jason Spezza and the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton all on the trade block, an aggressive play could land that center and lessen the expectations on Teravainen — a significant concern for Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville and just about everyone else in the organization. But it won’t come cheap, and it won’t come easy.