What will Benning do with Kesler? Plenty of teams would like to know

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It’s hard to understate the value of a top two-way center.

Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Pavel Datsyuk. Can we agree that those are the first four names that pop to mind in the category?

Well, each of them has at least one Stanley Cup ring. And that’s no coincidence.

Which brings us to Ryan Kesler, the 2011 winner of the Selke Trophy, which just so happened to be the same year he fell one win shy of hoisting the Cup with the Vancouver Canucks. Also, not a coincidence.

Now, one could debate whether Kesler is still a Selke-caliber player. The 29-year-old has only added to his lengthy injury log the past few seasons, and he wasn’t even in the conversation for the award in 2013-14. But there’s a reason Kesler’s future in Vancouver is one of the major question marks facing incoming general manager Jim Benning, and a story that will be watched with great interest around the NHL. If the Canucks do decide to deal the Livonia native — something they explored at this season’s deadline, before Benning’s predecessor, Mike Gillis, was fired — there will be suitors. Plenty of them.

According to The Province, Kesler was willing to waive his no-trade clause for six teams: Anaheim, Colorado, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.The Ducks and Penguins were considered the front-runners to add his services, though ultimately no deal was made. At least one of them still sounds interested. The other needs to hire a new GM first.

The budget-conscious Avs are an interesting potential trade partner, given the uncertain future of two-way center Paul Stastny, not to mention Kesler’s affordable contract that has two years remaining, with an annual salary of just $5 million.

Not sure the Blackhawks have the cap room for Kesler, but could they use him as a second-line center? Without a doubt.

Tampa Bay? Detroit? They’d probably take Benning’s call. And if Kesler really wants out of Vancouver, he may be willing to expand his list beyond six teams.

Or, the Canucks may decide to keep Kesler. Vancouver’s new president of hockey ops, Trevor Linden, said yesterday that he was encouraged by the conversation the two had following the season. And while it’s not totally clear what Linden meant by that, he also said he wants to make the playoffs next year. Which would seem to preclude a wholesale rebuild.

Anyway, Benning will be introduced to the media tomorrow in Vancouver.

Kesler’s name might come up.