In the end, the Ducks' decision to trade for center Ryan Kesler was about one thing — helping them reel in their crosstown rivals, the Stanley Cup champion Kings.
Kesler plays with a physical edge that the Ducks desperately need in the playoffs against the likes of the Kings and Chicago. The former Selke Trophy winner with the Vancouver Canucks has another talent the Ducks have been lacking, the ability to excel in the faceoff circle.
On Friday, Anaheim sent defenseman Luca Sbisa, center Nick Bonino and the 24th pick in the draft to Vancouver for Kesler, who turns 30 in August, and also swapped third-round picks.
Hours later, the Ducks stayed on the physical theme, taking left wing Nick Ritchie of Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League at No. 10 overall at the NHL's entry draft in Philadelphia. The 6-foot-3, 226-pound Ritchie had been projected to go as high as No. 6.
"I just think we're a better team than we were yesterday," Ducks General Manager Bob Murray said. "I don't think this puts us automatically in the group … of the L.A.'s and the Chicagos — but we're a little bit closer now."
The Ducks thought they were on the verge of acquiring Kesler at the trade deadline in March, only to have the deal collapse at the last minute. But Kesler made it clear he didn't want to go through a rebuilding process with the Canucks, and new management in Vancouver accommodated him.
"Last year, that season was tough on all the players on the Canucks," Kesler said in a conference call. "I hate losing. That season was painful, to be honest. The fact that they are in a rebuild and are looking to get younger and are years away from being a contender, I think it was just time for me to move on and win and hopefully take home a championship.
"I'm turning 30. Not only do I want to win the Stanley Cup, but I want to be a big part of winning a Stanley Cup. I'm not getting any younger. I want to win a championship."
The Ducks were in serious need of a quality No. 2 center after they opted not to bring back veteran Saku Koivu. It helps them match up better against their Southern California rivals, the Kings, who have the deepest collection of centers in the league with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards.
Kesler's gritty style has exacted a price in terms of injuries. His numbers have dropped from 73 points in the 2010-11 season to 43 this past season. He had shoulder surgery after the Canucks lost to the Kings in the first round of the playoffs in 2012.
Murray was aware of the risk but was prepared to take it.
"Because of the way he plays, he plays so hard, there's going to be injuries," he said. "We want him to play that way. We understand there could be injuries along the way. He's the type of guy we need in the playoffs, let's put it that way."
Kesler, who had a no-trade clause, had two teams on his list — Anaheim and Chicago.
Bonino, who was the Ducks' third-leading scorer last season with 82 points, was not entirely surprised. The Ducks had been linked to Kesler and Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza as possible trade targets. Murray also said they did "a lot of exploring."
"I know they were players with Spezza and Kesler," Bonino said on a conference call. "It's something you're prepared for a little bit. That being said, as much as you think you're prepared, when that call actually comes, it's a bit of a shock."
The swap of third-round draft choices will mean that the Ducks will get Vancouver's third-round pick in 2015. The Canucks will take Anaheim's 85th overall selection this year.
The Kings made an interesting gamble with the 29th pick — taking 17-year-old forward Adrian Kempe of Sweden, who doesn't turn 18 until Sept. 13. Under NHL draft regulations, players born after Sept. 15 would not be eligible until next year. He is the second-youngest player in the draft.
"When I was a little kid I had Marian Gaborik as my favorite player," Kempe said of the Kings winger. "Now the past year … Gabriel Landeskog [of Colorado] and Dustin Brown, they're both really good two-way players, both really skilled too."
Kempe, who played for MoDo of the Swedish Hockey League last season, said he will stay in Sweden.
Ritchie, the Ducks' draft choice, has other plans.
"I think if you want to be something you've got to believe you can," he said. "I think that I'm ready to do that and I'm going to do whatever it takes to hopefully make that team."
Said Martin Madden, the Ducks' director of amateur scouting, "He is an impact player that makes opponents uncomfortable."
Shortly before the draft, teams were given a financial framework for next season. The salary cap will be $69 million, announced by the NHL and the NHL Players Assn. The number was lower than expected.
Chicago and Boston are over the cap, according to the website capgeek.com. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said via email on Friday night that the team is OK in terms of the salary cap for the upcoming season, but it will be "tight."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times