It’s easy to see why the Penguins want Ryan Kesler.
The Vancouver center is a rare combination of skill and grit. Kesler would restore the Penguins’ vaunted three-center model, which got ripped asunder when Jordan Staal was traded after the 2011-12 season. Brandon Sutter is average, no better. Kesler is acerbic. Not a country-club guy. The Penguins’ dressing room needs that.
But why would Kesler want to join the Penguins?
Kesler, 29, would be the Penguins’ third-line center. He’d skate between curtain-jerkers like Taylor Pyatt and Jayson Megna. Kesler can get much better elsewhere.
Right wing doesn’t seem to be an option. Kesler has played that position alongside the Sedin twins in Vancouver and hated it. Even if Kesler could be convinced to flank Sidney Crosby, who would center the third line? Sutter would certainly be part of the package that would fetch Kesler.
GM Ray Shero has reportedly offered Sutter, the Penguins’ first- and third-round picks in this year’s draft, and the Canucks’ choice of defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres.
The Penguins have no plans for Despres despite his first-round pedigree. Dumoulin is seen as depth, not much more. Sutter has disappointed in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have enough high draft choices on their roster.
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are 26 and 27, respectively. In their primes. The Penguins can’t discard the future. But they can’t dwell on it, either.
The Canucks will likely want more. Shero may give it to them. Kesler has two years remaining on a deal that pays $5 million per. Shero is convinced the Penguins need Kesler, and contract control makes him all the more attractive.
Kesler’s take-no-prisoners attitude would be welcome. The Penguins’ organization has gone soft. That’s exemplified by their dressing room, described by one NHL veteran as “the quietest I’ve ever been in.”
Kesler isn’t known for being well-liked. Quite the opposite.
Perhaps Kesler is a jerk. Perhaps he’s a catalyst. There’s a fine line. Kesler would almost certainly provide an agent provocateur.
Acquiring Kesler would not solve the Penguins’ depth problem at forward. But he would be a huge upgrade at third-line center. He would add help on the power play, penalty-kill and face-offs. He would provide flexibility and versatility.
Kesler is a really good hockey player. You can’t have too many of those.
The Penguins need a spark. The Penguins have won 40 and lost 20, but their record flatters to deceive. They have fattened up on a bad conference and on a worse division, and may do so again come the playoffs.
But despite the presence of superstars like Crosby and Malkin, they look to be no better than on the fringe of legit Stanley Cup contention.
The Penguins got embarrassed in Saturday’s game at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The conditions made the result almost moot, but also reflected the Penguins’ conceit and stubbornness: They never adjusted to playing in a blizzard. They insisted on “getting to their game” in a situation where that was impossible.
Dan Bylsma tried to out-coach Mother Nature. His team’s cute 15-foot neutral-zone passes died in the slush. The Blackhawks just got it deep, and got it on net.
Sometimes it seems like the Penguins think their philosophy is more important than the result. But nothing trumps winning.
The Penguins got buried in the snow at Chicago. But, at Tuesday’s practice, it was time to have fun: The loser of the shootout had to grow a mustache.
“Mustache boy” is a monthly tradition. Just like underachieving in the playoffs is becoming an annual tradition.
For the rest of the season, the Penguins should do a little less branding, shoot a little less reality TV, have a little less fun and treat playing hockey a lot more like work. It could not possibly hurt.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).