In the incredible decline of the Vancouver Canucks, the fate of Ryan Kesler’s right knee is suddenly central to the team’s future.

Kesler was injured Wednesday night in Winnipeg and is returning to Vancouver to have his right knee assessed with an MRI.

The Canucks – who have in record time gone from a contender in a slump to a franchise rebuilding – had tried to trade the 29-year-old star forward last week at the NHL trade decline but turned down deals. A Kesler trade was imagined as the pivot point to overhaul the team in one swoop but offers fell short of the Canucks’s desire for a player, prospect and draft pick. Kesler, agitated at Vancouver’s poor prospects, wanted to move to a potential winner – and after last week’s no deal attention turned towards a transaction at the draft.

Now, however, regardless of the severity of the Kesler’s knee injury, the Canucks have been dealt a big blow. If teams weren’t willing to pile the table high with offerings ahead of this year’s playoffs for healthy Kesler, it seems available deals won’t be better in late June at the draft, two months before Kesler’s 30th birthday on Aug. 31.

Kesler won the Selke Trophy in 2010-11 but thereafter struggled for several years with injuries, hip and shoulder surgery, and his game only returned to its best this season. But once again he is hurt. In Winnipeg, with about four minutes left in the second period, Kesler’s right knee was slammed and somewhat twisted in a collision with the Jets centre Jim Slater. The two were going after a loose puck near the Canucks bench in the Winnipeg defensive zone.