Who's this guy?
Kevin Francesco Bieksa. Pronounced Bee-EK-Sa. Please write that down and pass it to your local play-by-play announcer since it remains, for some reason, quite the tongue twister.
Position: D to the fence.
Shoots: With the quiet determination of a thousand gods. Also right.
Weight: 198 lbs
Born: Grimsby, ON. Juice isn't the first notably Grimsbian (that's the right term yes?) to join the Canucks. That distinction belongs to Dennis Ververgaert who still holds as many franchise goals as the Alex Mogilny fella'.
History: Drafted 151st (5th round) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the same draft where Juice's former linemate (Sir Hamhuis of Smithers) went 12th overall and Vancouver took the ill-tempered R.J. Umberger at 16th. Vancouver also took short-lived thrillers Fedor Fedorov and Jason King in the same draft, so while 2001 seems like a bleak draft year it wasn't remotely as bad as 2002.
What'd he do?
Bieksa played in 36 games this season, mostly missing time for maintenance and a nagging groin injury. I mention this quaint little nugget of truth as further proof that having two right shooting defensemen (the other being Tanev) is all the more obvious when one, or both, are injured and out of the line-up.
As Blake mentioned when looking at Edler, this season saw Bieksa break free from Hamhuis and step into Sami Salo's vacant spot. His six goals trailed both Edler and Garrison for blueliner goals and his six assists ranked him fourth best in the same group. He finished with 60 hits - second only to Edler's 77 - and 50 blocks which was good enough for fifth best, behind the other big three D men and Tanev. He was also second on defense in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (1.0) which was second best to Ballard's 1.2, but his penalties against per 60 was 1.5, the highest on the team at any position. Even in a short season this would help explain his PIM per game average being 1.33, his worst in the past two seasons.
He picked up a goal on six shots and finished with a -1 during the first round of the playoffs.
Important footnote: he was the team's Masterton Trophy nominee for his great work promoting the Rick Rypien-inspired mindcheck.ca charity.
So was he any good?
|CORSI Rel QoC||0.566||0.797|
|O Zone %||49.2%||49.2%|
While Edler lead all D men in O-zone starts at 56.6%, Bieksa ranked 7th highest, ahead of only Alberts, Tanev and Joslin (hey, remember him?). On the flip side his relative Corsi was third best for defenders - behind Hamhuis and Garrison - and in the same family roughly as comparables Ryan McDonagh, Erik Johnson and Kevin Carlson.
Having just finished his eighth season in Vancouver, we know well by now what we get with Bieksa: he doesn't have the defensive discipline of Hamhuis or the offensive gifts of Edler, but he does them all well enough and includes those pesky intangibles like "grit" and "heart" that make him valuable in any on-ice situation. He's will bleed Canuck blue if it meant the win, but injuries took a toll this year and the jury is out on whether he and Edler are the best long term solution for the second pairing.
What'd we like?
Ignore the announcers, but watch the hit that lead to the fight. Freight train'ed.
Can't talk about Bieksa without the superpunch (1:03)
Teeing up the game tying goal against Chicago.
Threading the needle and forcing OT against the Oilers.
Bieksa pulls a douche move, but it's against another douche and Luongo's face is priceless, so it's still a win
Kassian to Bieksa for a PPG score. No seriously, that happened.
Cool. So what did we hate?
Groin injuries were a dime a dozen last season across the league, so while Bieksa did miss a fourth of an already short season due to some groin hurt, I wouldn't peg that on his conditioning. As with most criticisms on this squad, there's always room for better consistency: he went pointless for the first eight games and suffered another eight game skid during late March. There's also his goofy penalties: his 19 minors make him tied for the 8th highest in the league (fun fact: Burrows was tied for the highest alongside Chris Neil). We expect Bieksa to be an aggressive, bruising-type defenseman, so it's not alarming that he's in the same PIM boat with guys like Dion Phaneuf or Niklas Kronwall, but if the PK isn't trustworthy it'd be nice to see him reign in those moments which are borderline (which of course is practically impossible in a sport where on-ice decisions change by the second but I can dream can't I?)
So what now?
Bieksa is under wraps for three more seasons at $4.6 per which includes a full NTC. No one is ever safe obviously, but why would Gillis look to move a guy he can't easily replace? Crazier things could happen I guess, but as we all painfully know by now, the team has plenty to do up front and in net first. The pairings are more or less set and remain the strongest part of the line-up, one where Bieksa remains as vital as ever at both evens and special teams. Some better luck with the health and fewer trips to the box would be ideal but he remains the best all-around defenseman on the Canucks.