Bob Smizik: Reports: Penguins pursuing Kesler

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If the outdoor game at Soldier Field Saturday night was a glimpse of the Stanley Cup final, as some have suggested, it did not paint a pretty picture of the Penguins’ chances should they get that far. The Penguins were badly outclassed by the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-1, before almost 63,000 fans.

But the teams that show up for the playoffs in April might not be the same ones that performed last night. The Penguins, for sure, are seeking upgrades. Based on the reporting of two men who should know better than most, if not all, the Penguins are intent on adding Vancouver center Ryan Kesler before the Wednesday trade deadline.

At the Post-Gazette, Dave Molinari wrote, “A number of teams, including the Penguins, appear to be seriously interested in acquiring Kesler, even though Vancouver’s front office has not committed to trading him.”

Citing multiple sources, Rob Rossi wrote in the Tribune-Review, “Vancouver center Ryan Kesler is being pursued aggressively by Penguins general manager Ray Shero.”

A center by trade, Kesler would be an excellent fit on the Sidney Crosby line, which is playing the remainder of the season without Pascal Dupuis, at right wing.

The Penguins would be one of several teams interested in acquiring Kesler, who is 29 and has 21 goals and 18 assists in 61 games this season. His best season was in 2010-11 when he had 41 goals and 73 points and finished 15th in the NHL scoring race.

Kesler currently is playing with a hand injury but it has not limited his ice time. He was on for 22 minutes Friday for the Canucks.

Rossi writes that the Penguins are just as interested in Kesler long term as they are for this Stanley Cup run. The team, he wrote, would pursue Kesler in the offseason if it fails to acquire him before Wednesday. He has two years remaining on his contract after this season with a cap hit of $5 million.

Although the Penguins are flush against the salary cap, they could make moves that would easily enable them to afford Kesler for the remainder of this season.

What is daunting for the Penguins is putting together a package that would entice the Canucks into dealing Kesler and one that would be better than the other teams seeking his services.

Rossi wrote “A proposed deal would send Kesler to the Penguins in exchange for center Brandon Sutter, two 2014 draft picks — likely a first- and third-round — and the Canucks’ choice of defensemen Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin.”

In addition to Sutter, Molinari wrote, “No one should be surprised if the Canucks would insist that defenseman Derrick Pouliot – the Penguins’ top prospect outside the NHL – be part of any package.”

Kesler has a no-trade clause in his contract but it is believed he’d be receptive to a trade to the Penguins.

Acquiring Kesler is not a panacea for all of the Penguins’ shortcomings. If he plays alongside Crosby, that line would be significantly upgraded. But with the absence of Sutter, the third line would be even less productive than it has been. If Kesler moves to the third line, there still will be a shortage of quality wingers to play with him and there would still be a missing link on the Crosby line.

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