Should the Canucks Move on From Kevin Bieksa?

For the third time in four years, the Vancouver Canucks bowed out as prohibitive favourites in the first round of the playoffs without so much as a whimper. A lot has changed in those four years, but much of the core remains the same. The same key pieces that helped drive the Canucks success towards the 2010-11 Stanley Cup are largely in tact, save for the since departed Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo.

A lot can happen in four years. For the aging Canucks core, much of it hasn’t been good. The Sedins have lost their fastball, but managed to stay relevant with improved defensive play – all things being relative here, we are still talking about top-fifteen scorers. Dan Hamhuis aged arguably faster than any Canuck under John Tortorella and has turned from steadfast, first-pairing stalwart to serviceable top-four defender. No remaining piece from that key group of 2011 contributors has seen their abilities atrophy to the extent of one Kevin Bieksa though.

It begs the question of whether the heart-and-soul leader from the Canucks blue line has a place in the future of this franchise. The Canucks will have an awful lot of soul searching to do in the coming months. They will have to decide in that time if they want to come out with Bieksa on the other side.

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Should the Canucks make an effort to move Bieksa, it will present its fair share of logistical hurdles. First, Bieksa’s was one of the many contracts saddled with a full no-trade clause during the Canucks hay days. Like Peter Chiarelli with futures, Mike Gillis proved all too generous in the distribution of no-trade clauses in an effort to bring down salary cap-hits and cash in on what looked like a glowing present. Bieksa’s contract is a prime example. Staring down free agency and looking at a sizable raise from his $3.75-million, Bieksa was lucky enough to count his among the earliest of those contracts. 

What remains of this extension is another year at a cap-hit of $4.6-million with just $2.5-million in actual cash owed. With a stagnant cap, set to settle at $71.5-million, Bieksa’s contract will prove every bit as onerous to potential suitors as it would be for the Canucks should they decide to keep him, but internal budget teams like Winnipeg may find value in paying less actual dollars in salary.

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But, all this operates on the assumption that Bieksa is willing to waive his NTC. While the dealing of Jason Garrison at last year’s draft proved that Jim Benning has no problem eschewing out no-trades that he had no part in signing, these are very different circumstances. Garrison had spent two seasons in Vancouver; Bieksa just finished his tenth, after being drafted by the Canucks in 2001.

Garrison reportedly flat-out vetoed a proposed deal to St. Louis that may have seen the Canucks get Patrik Berglund in return for the hometown blue liner. It wasn’t until continued pressure from management and a package that assured him a return to the Sunshine State that Garrison finally bent the knee. Imagine a player with as much attachment to both the city and the franchise as Bieksa? Lest we forget, he’s raising a family here.

That’s a big ask for a veteran player who’s given his all to this franchise. Bieksa has also developed into something of a fan favourite, and for a franchise so bent on goodwill, forcing out a player so committed to both this franchise and city could prove a PR nightmare. It could prove equally as distasteful to the locker room full of veterans that this franchise has seemingly sold a competitive retooling to, as opposed to the scorched earth rebuild most teams undertake. A move like this signals a focus on the future.

And if this year’s brief playoff run has proven anything, it’s that this franchise should make moves that are geared towards that exact end. It’s not about competing for a playoff spot next year, or in all likelihood the two or three the proceed it. It’s about competing for a Stanley Cup as soon as you’re good enough.

So one has to ask themselves, will 36 or 37 year old Bieksa be able to contribute on a Stanley Cup contending team at that point? Would any feasible return for Bieksa offer more in the future than Bieksa could?

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Well, if this season was any indicator, a 33-year old Bieksa isn’t able to contribute to a contending team at a value commensurate with his contract any more. Quite frankly – after a season as poor as last – it’s fair to wonder if Bieksa is playing at half that level. Bieksa’s played a rough ten years with this franchise and it’s hard to say they haven’t taken their toll. 

Looking solely at Bieksa’s possession numbers, this was his worst season since 2007-08 when Bieksa only suited up for 34 games. Rhys also looked at Bieksa’s decline earlier this season, concluding that his defensive game was atrophying too. And while the extent to which Bieksa was dragged down by Luca Sbisa this season can’t be understated, it also has to be noted that just a season ago, the resounding tune was that Bieksa and Alexander Edler couldn’t work together. You’ll notice a continuing theme here.


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Graph from this post in late January

Much of Bieksa’s value has long been attributed to facets of the game that won’t show up on the stats sheet. I find this sentiment holds a fair amount of weight. Bieksa’s long been a vocal leader within the Canucks locker room and a willing combatant where the fisticuffs are concerned. None of this has changed and for teams more ingratiated to an old school approach to team building, this will certainly suit the mold. 

Using some of the more readily available metrics at our disposal, though, we can assume that any potential Bieksa trade could likely yield something in the neighbourhood of a second-round pick and a B-level prospect. What also has to be taken into consideration is the $4.6-million in salary cap space that the Canucks could clear with this move. That cap space could prove the most valuable asset of all – if used (in part) on a 27-year old defender like VANCOUVER GIANTS LEGEND Cody Franson, it would represent a significant upgrade in the youth and skill department. Worst case scenario, it clears space for one of the Canucks budding young blue liners.

Not long ago just the suggestion of moving Bieksa would seem laughable. During his prime, he was an excellent defender with offensive upside and enough snarl to make the opposition’s toes curl. He’s worn the ‘A’, he’s been a vocal leader, and has always answered the bell. He was the consummate Canuck in an era which was marked by the “We Are All Canucks” slogan. His goal was the one that sent this franchise to its last Stanley Cup birth.

Yet, as we are all too often reminded, sports are a business first. The Canucks are in the business of winning. While they aren’t quite ready to do it yet, this last campaign suggests that even if they were, it’s not in their best interests to keep Bieksa and his contract in tow. What will Bieksa have left in three or four years, especially given his rough and tumble style of play?

There might be value in having a player like Kevin Bieksa on your team. I’m just not sure that applies to the Canucks anymore. It’s time to move on.

  • peterl

    Sadly I think this is the end for Bieksa. His declining production and upside of Corrado/Clendening make him expendable. Bieksa’s skills could be renewed under a new team and a defensive partner that compliments him much better (who out there could complement Sbisa???).

    I don’t anticipate the Canucks receiving much in return for Bieksa, unfortunately. If the Canucks held onto him until the 2016 trade deadline, he could be a pretty good commodity: right-shooting defensemen with playoff experience and a non-onerous expiring contract. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. But likely I suspect him to moved for the aforementioned draft pick and B prospect.

  • VBS6935

    What you say about hockey as a business applies to Kevin Bieska equally with the Canucks. I don’t see any reasons given as to why he would or should sacrifice himself for their benefit.

    Its possible he might want to play on a Stanley cup contender I suppose, but I wonder if he thinks it is worth a year or two of his family life for that. Time will tell I guess. but I for one wouldn’t fault him for finishing out his contract in Vancouver.

    Any blame for his situation is on the management side, not his, and he should do what is best for himself. After all, its not Kevin Bieska who has put the Canucks in the situation they are in.

    • wojohowitz

      No it’s BX’s decline in play that has. Whose fault that is up to a God and Mother Nature to figure out. As per whether or not he ought to be traded:

      Yes, so long as it helps the team. He’s only got a year left. Bieksa can play defence, but if the Canucks aren’t sold on Corrado or Clendenning (and I’m not, yet) what’s the point in dealing him?

  • VBS6935

    Prohibitive favorites?

    Perhaps you didn’t notice that a slight majority of media types picked the Flames to win.

    It will be a tough contract to move after a year like that. The no trade clause makes it that much harded.

    A second would be a strong return. A third from the Leafs, Sabres or Sens is more likely.

  • Ruprecht

    Another season and it only gets uglier from the fans. He got his mulligan this season and part of last. If we keep him and he puts in another performance like this year, he’ll be run out of town. I’m hoping a gracious exit is preferred by both parties.

  • wojohowitz

    The Canucks have a serious lack of grit and that is only one part of Bieksa`s game. To replace him with a small, skilled but soft defenseman would be a mistake. They need to get bigger and meaner. Bieksa was captain of last years WHC team. That says a lot about what he brings to the rink.

  • wojohowitz

    The Canucks will need to move on from everyone eventually*. Best to trade him while they can still get something in return rather than let him walk for nothing.

    *The exception I have to that is trading the Sedins. I hope they retire as Canucks.

  • wojohowitz

    The Canucks will need to move on from everyone eventually*. Best to trade him while they can still get something in return rather than let him walk for nothing.

    *The exception I have to that is trading the Sedins. I hope they retire as Canucks.

  • andyg

    Juice has long been one of my favourite Canucks. However, I do feel that it is time to move on. Sometimes things just get stale.

    As has been said before, he’s lost his fastball. He’s not a go to guy anymore. I do think that a lot of the negativity directed towards Bieksa this year had more to do with his defensive pairing. The Bieksa/Sbisa pairing was one of Willie’s worst coaching moves this year. The biggest issue is that both players are high risk players, and neither have the tools be high reward. It makes the pairing extremely high event, and not in a positive way. All season they were constantly out chanced.

    Bieksa and Hamhuis had a roughly 52% 5V5 Corsi this season. Granted, 160 minutes isn’t a huge sample size, but to me it shows that Bieksa can still contribute to an effective pair, but he needs a partner that can be his legs. Sbisa is obviously not that guy.

    On the other hand, I think Sbisa could also be not awful (high praise, right?) if put with the right partner. I don’t know if someone like Clendenning, Corrado, or anyone else in the system can mimic the calming effect that Tanev had on Edler to help Sbisa succeed, but it’s clear Juice isn’t the right guy.

    Unfortunately, i do think it is time to move on from Bieksa. Maybe Detroit would be interested in a right handed shooting dman?

  • wojohowitz

    They said Matt Greene was too slow to play in Edmonton.

    They said Robyn Regehr was all used up in Calgary.

    They said Willie Mitchell was too old to play in Vancouver.

    What do the 3 have in common? Stanley cup champions with the LA Kings.

    Go ahead run Bieksa out of town JD, but u will regret it. U will eat ur words when he becomes the next Willie Mitchell and lifts the cup in another teams colours.

    I hope he retires a Canuck.

    • Squibbles

      They didn’t say Mitchell was too old for Vancouver. He had a terrible concussion and it was unclear if he would ever play again or if he did if it would be up to anything near his previous level. The team was tight on cap space and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) take that risk.

      • They weren’t tight on the cap, they traded for Ballard at the draft who made a Milly more then Mitchell.

        They knew he would come back but thought he was too old to regain his form if he did.

        Regardless he was at the same stage of his career as Bieksa and he came back to play some of the best hockey of his career en route to 2 cup rings. Bieksa will be that guy on another team if the Nucks trade him. Guarantee it.

    • Cale

      You’re right about Regehr and Greene, however, with Mitchell, he was coming off a bad concussion (are any concussions good?), and Vancouver was not willing to take the risk of re-signing him.
      If Benning, Linden and Dejardins buy into fancy stats, they may hopefully pair up Bieksa with someone else to see what happens. Unfortunately, they seem sold on Sbisa, so I guess he isn’t going anywhere.

  • This is a tough one. Bieksa has been awesome for us. He’d stay even when he knows we have ZERO chance at a Cup while he is able to play. He brings attitude and swagger; leadership and grit. Sadly, I think it’s time for him to go.

    I think Hamhuis should be dealt as well. Then we can sign Franson (if his asking price is reasonable – he would be a decent 3 or 4 D man and has size)

  • peterl

    Bieksa is an easy target for fans and media due to his his cap hit and declining play.

    NHL teams are in the business of winning hockey games so the question that needs to be asked is will any prospect within the Canucks organization that is replacing Bieksa be better or bring more to the table than Bieksa? I don’t think the Canucks have anybody in the system that can bring what KB3 brings to the table.

    Not trading him this summer will lead Vancouver to a short term cash crunch but we all know what utility defenseman fetch at the trade deadline. If they are going to trade him they better make damn sure they get good value for him and the best time to do that is at the 2016 deadline. With any luck, he will have a bounce back season and increase his trade value.

  • peterl

    Hello i just wanted to express how happy we all are that our friends down south kicked your sorry butts out of the playoffs. How is that in the last 10 yrs you have become the most hated team in Canada? Oh is it because of players (mostly cheap shot artists). The fans( officially more annoying then leaf fans….if thats even possible). Or is it the fact that when you had the whole country cheering for you in the Stanley cup finals you S#[email protected] the bed and then decided it would be cool to destroy your own city….lmao! Where did this arrogance come from? Are they putting something in the heroin now? Mcdavid says “Vancouver is a nice place….a nice place to take a dump!!” Cheers from alberta…The new “centre of the universe”

  • Cale

    I think they probably *will* trade Bieksa, as he doesn’t help them win right now.

    They *should* trade Edler & Tanev and stock up on prime picks and prospects while improving our position in next year’s draft. The Miller, Dorsett, and Sbisa contracts are going to significantly hamper our ability to win in the next 3-4 years, so take the other route: lose.

    We *could* have a bunch of very good young players entering their prime when those anchors expire in 3-4 years. We won’t, but we could.

  • It’s interesting that the decline in Bieksa’s underlying numbers pretty perfectly tracks his decline in playing partners. He went from Hamhuis (Great) to Garrison (Good) to Stanton (Okay) to Sbisa (god-awful).

    Bieksa’s play has declined over the past couple of seasons, but that decline is MASSIVELY exacerbated by the progressive decline of his defensive partners.

    [edit] @urwrong – you know there’s this lovely word called “you” that was invented a few years back. I believe it was shortly after someone thought up this other novel word, “are”.

  • andyg

    just what is the etiquette for putting a veteran player out to pasture in the cap era? what did they do pre-cap? there’s gotta be a graceful way to go about this. this rational approach we have going on this thread(and many others) leaves me a bit cold. i agree that dude ain’t worth the 4.** mil cap hit but i’ve also seen him leave everything on the ice(and get his jersey torn up for his troubles) plenty. the ‘thanks bud, there’s the door’ thing, while understandable, feels pretty rude.

    so what’s in the the official NHL fan guide about situations like these? I’d like to both pull for the canucks to improve AND show respect and decency to ageing players. Maybe the next cba needs an ‘ageing vet’ clause–over a certain age and a certain amount of years with the same team and you get some cap relief. might as well feel good about ourselves.

  • Dirty30

    I think the fair offer is to ask KB3 to take one for the team and discuss a position with the organization when he retires. If he wants to keep playing, an eastern based team with less travel might spare him some additional wear and tear — sure he won’t be in Van for home games but it’s not the whole world.

    I don’t think the Canucks are positioned for deep cup runs “as is” and if they get a couple pieces for Kev what’s stopping him from coming back to Van if there’s a chance to make something happen.

    Getting old sucks — and you can go gracefully and with class or become an Oilers fan crap the bed every night because you’re acting like a two-year old

    And what sucks as a fan is knowing we lost Garrison and now could lose KB3 for a second round and class B prospect which Benning simply tossed in the trash for The Svengence and a class D prospect in Vey.

    Someone needs to point toBenning and say to Kev “that’s what happens when you play hockey past your best before date. You think Brylcreem and Grecian formula keep you in the game and that you’re the smartest guy in the room — which isn’t true even when you’re alone!”

  • Brent

    Why can’t they get Bieksa to retire and join the team in some coaching/management role. he could still be involved in funny interviews (which I love), keep his family in town, and still be a Canuck. Is he ready to retire?

  • andyg

    Bieksa has been the heart and soul of this team but if he thinks about it a trade may be good for both sides. It is obvious the Canucks will not be renewing his contract. As it stands right now, there is a strong possibility he will be the odd man out and spend time in the press box because the Canucks have no choice but to bring players like Clendenning and Corrado along. For someone in the final year of a contract this is not a good thing. He needs to be with a team who wants him and who will give him an opportunity to show he still has skills and is worthy of a new contract. I think ultimately he will agree to a trade because it’s best thing for him.

  • Ca-nuckle head

    I think you will see them move Weber. He is an RFA and could fetch something on Draft day.
    Bieksa has earned the chance to play out the last year on his contract. As many comments have stated there is no direct replacement waiting in the wings. So what is the hurry to ship him out? To free up a spot to take a run at Franson? Chances of getting him are slim and it would come at overpayment.
    I think they hang on to Bieksa and re-visit this come next years trade deadline.

  • andyg

    I hope Canuck fans pay attention to the Flames series. If they go out in 4 games like they did in game 1 it will be a true evaluation as to how far we are from being a cup contender.

    I hope Benning pays attention also. I think we are in for some tough times ahead. There will be no quick magical fix!

    • Sports are like rock-paper-scissors. Teams match up against each other in different ways, and just because one team beats another, doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed that they’ll also beat team C. To put it another way, think about boxing in the 1970s. Frazier beat Ali, and then got absolutely destroyed by Foreman, so most people thought Foreman would destroy Ali too. But Ali beat Foreman. Teams employ different skill sets and strategies that match up well against some teams, and poorly against others.

      This isn’t to say the Canucks would beat the Ducks (they probably wouldn’t) but the kind of game they play and the way the team is structured means they would match up differently against the Ducks than the Flames do. The Flames getting trounced by the Ducks doesn’t actually tell you very much valuable about the Canucks.

          • pheenster

            I’m suggesting that the logic that goes “Calgary beat Vancouver, and Anaheim is demolishing Calgary, so therefore Vancouver is an exponentially worse team than Anaheim” is a fundamentally flawed equation peddled as fact by people who don’t understand sports in general and hockey in particular.

      • andyg

        We would have been toast in 4 straight against the Ducks. Calgary is better suited to play them than we are.

        We need a true number one D just to start with. How will we get that?

        Just explain to me how we will fix our D within the Sedins window.

        • pheenster

          I’m kind of curious as to what you base this assertion on. The regular season head-to-head records would actually indicate that we’re better suited to play the Ducks than Calgary is.

          You need to step back from the ledge and take a deep breath.

          • andyg

            I am basing it on the Canucks playoff record over the last 3 to 4 years. The regular season is mute once the playoff season starts.

            I take it you have been paying attention to how that has gone? If you think that there is some stats that shows that they may accidentally have playoff success please enlighten me.

            I see a core that is slowing down and there for expect to see the same thing next year once the real season starts. Please tell me how you think the core will be replaced with out a few more top 10 picks.

            Bo Horvat is the bright spot from this year and how did we acquire him? This organization new this was a deep draft but wasted the opportunity.

  • andyg

    “I hope Canuck fans pay attention to the Flames series. If they go out in 4 games like they did in game 1 it will be a true evaluation as to how far we are from being a cup contender.”

    nope, it will be a true evaluation of how lucky the flames were to get past the canucks.

    • andyg

      I think we will be having the same discussion next year at the same time. Right after round one!

      If you don’t have season tickets for next year I think there will be lots available going forward.

      Unless Benning is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat,what you see is what you get.

      And if they keep trading our draft picks away then the down time will be a long time.