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Photo Credit: (Bob Frid/Icon SMI)

Dear Hockey Night in Canada, please keep Kevin Bieksa on the panel

Throughout the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, I sacrificed my habitual snack runs and bathroom breaks during Hockey Night in Canada’s intermissions because of its most recent panellist addition: former Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks defenceman, Kevin Bieksa.

I wasn’t the only one, either. There are Reddit threads, tweets, and articles like Lisa Dillman’s from The Athletic that combined as a feedback chorus of praise for the fresh media personality.

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As Canucks fans, we knew he always was and still is funny. After passing the critical eyes of social media users with flying colours, I wondered what specifically made him so fun to watch, interesting to listen to, and how he promoted HNIC’s flow and atmosphere.

Past Shenanigans

When Bieksa was with the Canucks, he was most notably remembered for his strange OT goal against the San Jose Sharks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he also garnered a reputation for teasing his teammates in comical interviews.

The defenceman joked about not wearing underwear on the road, had a hilarious response to Vigneault about Fiddler’s memorable impression of him, and commented about airbrushing on Ryan Kesler’s ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue, and many more from his 10-year career in Vancouver. That 2010-2011 roster was full of unrestrained chirps and Bieksa always found a way to make a jab in jest.

Though he was traded in 2015, Bieksa carried his sense of humour over to Anaheim. He starred in a series called ‘Undercover Ducks’ twice, once as a Honda Center ice crew member, and another as a security guard. In both episodes, Bieksa found amusing ways to get under his teammates’ skin while fully disguising himself. More recently, he gave a priceless speech at the remarkable retirement of Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s jerseys in February.

His witty sense of humour and swift comebacks came so naturally and were something that pro hockey media needed desperately.

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The Media Route

After leaving the 2017-2018 Ducks roster (though he hasn’t officially retired yet), Bieksa began to pursue media-related opportunities regarding sports analysis.

He joined Kesler in creating the ‘Kes and Juice’ podcast, which allowed the two NHL veterans to reminisce on their explicit, untold memories in Vancouver and Anaheim while debating opinions on NHL current events, though it has been inactive since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

On Sportsnet590’s Good Show in January 2019, Bieksa discussed trading his skates for the mic:

“I’m not a journalist, didn’t have formal journalism training… I have no idea what I’m doing other than I’m just gonna be myself.”

He also wanted to focus on the players’ perspective, striving for more casual, dressing room-type conversations in interviews. His colloquial approach was, indeed, what made him so effective in his new media roles.

Throughout the past few years, Bieksa found himself in reporter gigs, including moments at the 2019 All-Star Skills Competition and with the Canucks. More significantly, he was incorporated into popular hockey media platforms like Sportsnet and eventually became the best thing to happen to the HNIC panel.

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Realistic Insight and Chirps

In the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Bieksa debuted as a fixed analyst on Hockey Night in Canada team along with a rotation of Ron MacLean, Elliotte Friedman, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Anthony Stewart, Kelly Hrudey, David Amber and Brian Burke.

The panel was in need of a rebrand when the company scrapped Coach’s Corner due to Don Cherry’s off-hand comments in November 2019. The Mike Milbury controversy in August also shone a negative light on the privileges of sports reporting, and a need for new, unproblematic faces.

Bieksa was highly-acclaimed for his tongue-in-cheek coverage and play-by-play analysis from his defenceman perspective. He referenced moments from his career and offered advice for young, upcoming hockey players watching from home, with some sass.

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He managed to stand as perceptive as his panelist colleagues because he played with and against most of the players on the ice right now; his use of nicknames and on-ice stories gave the commentary life.

Essentially, his honesty, bias toward teams, and overall disobedience to conventional analysis and reporting were what made Bieksa a star. The smiles and chuckle made the once-rigid panel more realistic.

Yesterday, Bieksa took to Sportsnet650’s Starting Lineup to discuss his presence on the HNIC panel:

“You guys know me, I’m always gonna be myself. I’m not gonna try to go into it with a strategic angle and try to be this guy or appeal to this kind of fan… At the end of the day I’m just being myself, and naturally I like to have fun.”

He went on to discuss the transition into the business, regarding the hours and balancing his routine with the work. Though he didn’t watch games in leisure, his account to watching many breakdowns of his own plays during his career and coaching of a minor league team contributed to his valuable views on the panel.

As he navigated 2018-19 unsure, he eased into the media spaces thanks to his desire to at least try everything once. He found himself gravitating toward the Toronto panel due to the work atmosphere. He said it didn’t feel like work because it was so fun: being able to dissect the sport, chirp each other about bad takes, and overall appreciate the game. He thanked the positive feedback from fans and reporters alike.

Amid trade rumors and the upcoming virtual NHL draft on Oct. 6 & 7, Bieksa’s HNIC contract is definitely something I’m looking forward to seeing renewed.