In the end, Ryan Kesler forced the Vancouver Canucks' hand.
By having a career year, the 25-year-old centre made his team pony up and open the purse strings in order to keep him around for an extended period of time.
Kesler signed a six-year, $30-million contract extension with the Canucks earlier in the week that will keep him in Vancouver through the 2015-2016 season.
“It’s something that I’m happy getting done and now I don’t have to worry about it, I can focus on trying to win hockey games,” Kesler said prior to Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. “I love the team, I love the city, I love the players that I’m playing with. It’s a great organization and I’m happy to be staying here for the next six years.”
This summer, the native of Livonia, Mich., was set to become a restricted free agent.
Having already once received an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers that the Canucks begrudgingly matched, Kesler would have been a prime candidate to get another one, which in the long run could have cost Vancouver even more money.
“It good for Ryan that he now knows where he’s going to be for a while, and that he’s a valuable member of our club,” said Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness. “I don’t think it was a distraction one way or the other, and as a
player, you have to feel good about a team stepping up and giving you that kind of money over that length of time and it should give you a big boost.”
Heading into Tuesday’s game, Kesler was third in team scoring behind the Sedin twins with 21 goals and 45 assists this season. It's the third consecutive season he has reached the 20-goal plateau. A year ago he registered what was then a career-high, 59 points.
Kesler was also a member of the U.S. silver-medal winning squad at the Vancouver Olympics in February.
“Kess has played great all year, it didn’t matter whether contract talks were on or off, he just kept playing,” Bowness said. “That’s what we expect him to continue to do. That contract tells you how valuable he is to our team.”
Kesler is considered one of the best two-way centres in the game. He was originally the Canucks first-round pick, 23rd overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
He spent parts of two seasons with the Canucks AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, before becoming an everyday NHLer. Kesler had a breakout season in 2007-2008 when he scored 21 goals, having registered six the year before.
“I just have to keep doing what I’m doing,” Kesler said. “Every year I grow and produce more and that’s no different then what I have to do next year.”
With the Canucks currently holding top spot in the Northwest Division and therefore automatically getting the third seed in the conference standings, the team is looking toward an extended run in the playoffs.
Last year, they were eliminated by the upstart Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.
“I think we’re playing better hockey here towards the end of the year,” Kesler said. “We need a good push here in the last 10 games of the year. We have a little bit of hockey here to play where we have to tighten up some things that we’re not happy about. But we’re looking forward to playing playoff hockey, it’s going to be fun this year.”