For a player who said he would take less to remain with the Vancouver Canucks, Ryan Kesler emerged with a market-value contract extension yesterday.
His agent, Denver-based Kurt Overhardt, landed a six-year deal worth $30-million (all currencies U.S.), and has general manager Mike Gillis's head for a watchful union.
And Canucks fans receive peace of mind this summer, when Kesler could have become a free agent, and knowledge that he will team with goalie Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins for the next half-decade.
"It's a relief to have another core player under contract for a significant period of time," Gillis said. "And we're hoping that this is going to drive Ryan to be even better."
One year ago, the NHL Players' Association censured Kesler when he suggested that he and his teammates should sign "below-market contracts" in order to stay intact and pursue a Stanley Cup.
The comment surrendered bargaining leverage, and could have created a difficult negotiation. It also created an environment where Overhardt needed to exact every dollar, lest the rank-and-file be offended.
"A lot of general managers might try to pounce on that, and eat those words, but it was a non-issue," Overhardt said.
Kesler, a six-year veteran who anchors Vancouver's second line and penalty killing, agreed to terms during a shotgun-negotiation session earlier this week. The 24-hour window, proposed by Overhardt, was designed to strike a deal, or eliminate the distraction of negotiations come the NHL playoffs next month.
The pact runs through the 2015-16 season, includes a no-trade clause that triggers in 2012, and buys out four years of unrestricted free agency, when Kesler could have commanded open-market dollars.
"Holding him to it? No," Gillis said of Kesler's out-of-school comment. "The fact that he was prepared to sign for the premium years of his hockey career was an indication to us that he was willing to make the concessions required to stay here and be a core player in our group. That was enough for us."
Kesler, 25, stood to be a restricted free-agent this summer, and while the Canucks could have retained his services under any scenario, he is one of the rare NHLers to have signed an offer sheet.
In 2006, the Livonia, Mich., native signed a $1.9-million tender with the Philadelphia Flyers. Grudgingly, the Canucks matched Philadelphia's terms, and the former first-round draft pick has since flourished.
He is a premier defensive forward and his point totals have risen in each of the past four seasons, to a career-high 66 this season. Kesler plays nearly 20 minutes a game - more than any Vancouver forward - and is one of the league's super pests.
But the offensive side of his game only ignited last year, under the influence of since-retired Mats Sundin. Kesler is on pace for 76 points this season, but scored just 37 two years ago. Gillis said he projects him to be a point-a-game player in the near term, and was convinced by the 2009-10 production.
By comparison, Canucks winger Alex Burrows, who is older with a lesser amateur pedigree, signed a four-year, $8-million extension last season in the midst of his first offensive breakout. He finished with 51 points, and has improved to 59 points and a team-leading 32 goals this season.
Should Kesler continue his career surge, than it will be money well spent. If not, the Canucks will have an expensive checker.
How the new-found riches go over in the dressing room is another situation worth watching. The Canucks bargained hard with the Burrows and Sedin twins when Gillis was chained to leaving salary-cap space.
But this season, the Canucks have dipped into their 2010-11 cap reserves, and have operated much closer to the league's $56.8-million spending limit. Now, they have handsomely rewarded a player who encouraged his colleagues to take less.
"It's a fair deal for both sides," Kesler said. "I was extremely happy to get it done now. It was something in the back of my mind."