Maybe it’s a moot point, but in our books the answer is yes, the Ducks win that series. And then? We know how the Kings finished up the playoffs, beating Chicago in a seven-game thriller and then storming through the New York Rangers in a five-game series that ended with the Kings’ second Stanley Cup in three years.
Could such glory be within reach of the Ducks now that they have acquired the highly sought-after Vancouver center?
Again, a moot point perhaps. But what isn’t moot, not after Friday afternoon’s pre-draft blockbuster trade between the Ducks and the Canucks, is that Kesler is now a Duck and the balance of power in the mighty Western Conference and in hockey’s toughest division (Pacific Division) has shifted, and perhaps more than a little.
There will always be durability issues with Kesler, who asked out of Vancouver as the Canucks embark on a remaking of what not so long ago was the top regular season club in the NHL. But when he’s healthy -- and he was for most of last season -- Kesler is among the premier two-way centers in the game. The former Frank J. Selke Trophy winner is the prototypical 200-foot player, hard to play against and blessed with excellent offensive skills that saw him collect 148 point between 2009 and 2011.
Playing behind Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf as the Ducks’ No. 2 center, Kesler gives the Ducks the one-two punch they will need to traverse the rocky Western Conference playoff road, the kind of punch they lacked against the Kings this past spring.
Immediately after the trade was announced, there was condemnation on social media for the return new Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning realized in trading Kesler. But in obtaining Nick Bonino, the Canucks got an emerging center who should fit in nicely behind Henrik Sedin in the Canucks' lineup. The 26-year-old had a breakthrough year last season with 22 goals and added four more in 13 postseason games.
Defenseman Luca Sbisa also went in the deal, as did the Ducks’ 24th overall pick in Friday night’s draft, plus the teams swapped third-round picks. Sbisa has not developed the way the Ducks hoped when they acquired him in another draft day deal with Philadelphia in 2009 for defenseman Chris Pronger.
Could the Canucks have gotten more for a player of Kesler’s caliber?
Tough when Kesler held all the cards in this situation with a no-trade clause that essentially left the Canucks with only two teams to deal with: Anaheim and Chicago.
And kudos to Anaheim GM Bob Murray, who gave up a lot but still managed to keep core youngsters like defenseman Sami Vatanen, Devante Smith-Pelly and Emerson Etem. He also managed to acquire a player in Kesler who, at 29, is still in his prime and has two years left on a contract with a very cap-friendly $5 million annual cap hit.
Speaking of Chicago, the Blackhawks have been scouring the NHL landscape looking for a second-line center to fall in behind Jonathan Toews on their depth chart as they too were over-matched by the Kings down the middle in the conference finals. Missing out on Kesler is a blow, but it also means they will no doubt redouble their efforts to impress free agent center Paul Stastny and/or take a run at Ottawa center Jason Spezza, who has asked to be traded out of the Canadian capital.
The much-anticipated Kesler deal has the potential to drive up Ottawa GM Bryan Murray’s asking price, as the options for teams looking for help down the middle have now been greatly diminished.
One thing's for sure: With the Kesler domino falling, what many believed would be a wild and woolly draft weekend got off to a roaring early start.