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Canuck Player Autopsy: Kevin Bieksa

If there is one player this year that reflects the fickleness of Canuck fans, it is "Juice".

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Who's this guy?

Kevin Bieksa.  Juice.

Position: Defence

Shoots: Right

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 198 lbs

Born: June 16th, 1981 in Grimsby Ontario.  Kevin Bieksa took the smart road to the NHL, as he went to Bowling Green University as a Finance Major from 2001 to 2004.  All those great defencemen that the Canucks seem to draft in the 5th round ?  It started with Juice, a 151st pick in 2001.  After graduating, Juice played 4 games with the Moose in 2004, and a full season there in 2006 ( AHL All-Rookie Team that year ) , as well as a bit in 2007, before finally staying up in The Show for good in 2008 ( 34 games played that year before becoming a fixture on the blue line from 2009 onward ).

What'd he do?

We'll get to that in a second...Kevin Bieksa is, maybe more than anyone without an identical twin brother, the player that represents the "old"guard for the Canucks.  He was, and is, a warrior for this team, and has so many moments that invoke strong memories of better bygone days.  I own one jersey, and it has a #3 on it and a Bieksa nameplate.  So I hope he stays, if only for my fashionability when I wear the colours, if nothing else.  But when you search him , the top stories are all about whether he will be traded or not.  I don't read Gollum anymore, but Gallagher's headline about the Canucks facing a difficult choice with a loyal soldier is apt.  Interesting times.  I thought he was a lifer, myself, but you never know in pro sports.

So, what did he do ?

Kevin Bieksa put up 4 goals and 14 assists in 60 games played. ( player page here ). When you look at his production, it is not the career high, but it is certainly not off a cliff.  His offensive production this year was consistent with his career production. ( '07, with 12 G and 42 Pts, '09 with 11G and 41 Pts, and '12, with 8 G and 44Pts are his best ).  This year was closer to the other years than those high end ones, but still decent with 22 less games played.

With Juice, it is always going to be about this play or that one.  We revel in debating them here, and twitter loves to play armchair defenseman with Juice.  ( FTR, and I like Botch most times, but that "Casual Kev' " thing was not very good.  Lazy journalism, and it encouraged the entire fanbase to dissect this pay or that.  I did not like the mocking aspect of it that much either...).  Kevin Bieksa is, at times, a "high risk, high reward" player.  But when you look at some of the defensman specific stats ( giveaways and takeaways ), you get some clues.  Last year, he played more ( 22:46 to 20:49 this year ), and had 55 GvA's to 32 TkA's.  This year, that ratio got worse, as he had 64 GvA's and a measly 19TkA's.

To me, that jibes with what I saw with his game this year, more than in the past.  He seemed to be later to the play, and was chasing more.  Those numbers would seem to reflect someone chasing the play more.  Whether that has anything to do with age and his robust style of play, or because he struggled with more than the hand injury that took the lions share of his time on the injury list, I don't know.

So was he any good?

That is the million dollar question with our man Juice, isn't it ?  The numbers above don't look good, but check a couple other defenseman specific stats.  In 60 games this year, Bieksa had 109 hits and 93 blocks.  Last year, he had 144 and 130.  The year before that ? 60 hits and 50 blocks in the 36 games in the truncated season.  159 and 109 in his best recent year of 11-12.  In the year the Canucks went to the Final, Juice played 66 games in the regular season.  He had 104 hits and 93 blocks.

That is some pretty laudable consistency too.  Juice is always going to finish his checks and get in the way of the shot if he can.  That he did it again this year at those career levels is not something to be taken lightly.

I'll let you decide for yourself on how his advanced stats stack up.  Here is the graphs. Click round there at your hearts content.  The visual graphs are my faves.  They show he was negative in some, and, again, remarkably consistent in others.  I mean, check that zone starts graph !

With Bieksa, you know what you are going to get.  You can point to this play or that, or the fact that it looked like he was chasing more this year than in the past.  But, when healthy and on his game, Juice can anchor a Top 4 pairing still.  He will have to play smarter as he gets older, but definitely still has "game".

What'd we like?

He can still do this.  Watch how he short swings the shot to just get it under the stick of the onrushing check.

There is never a good fight, I suppose.  Guys are punching at helmets and visored heads with their bare hands.  But in the world of hockey, fighting is still a part of the game.  This one, against a bigger and very game Wayne Simmonds was talked about afterwards as the "spark" that led to the win against the Flyers.

This is from last year, but I thought it was fun.  Seriously, search Bieksa's name on youtube if you have some time and want some fun.  Everything from Cabbie Presents to OTR, as well as oh so many clips that feature his outstanding sense of humour.  The most entertaining, and best quote on the team, in addition to being an assistant captain and leader.

Cool. So what did we hate?

I hate that a guy that singlehandedly started a charity that has helped save lives after his friend on the team died tragically, and who is always front and centre when it comes to charities or special events for this team will have to endure the kind of summer that Juice will have to.  He has embraced the community outreach the Canucks demand more than almost any other.

I do think Jim Benning wants him around, but there has to be a question of fit, and while consistent in his game, there is an argument to be made for diminishing skills and father time catching up.  I would caution those with the dismissal of him from the team prematurely.  He is 33.  Sure, defensemen feel it quicker than forwards, but there is still game in this man, and it should be in Canuck colours, shouldn't it ?

So what now?

Juice signed a 5 year, 23 million dollar deal that covered from the 11-12 season until the next year, after which he would become a UFA.  As a finance major, Juice should understand why there is talk about him and being dealt in this year.  Part of that deal was a 10 million dollar signing bonus, which was paid out over the past four years.  As a result, the Cap hit for next year is 4.6 million, while his actual dollar costs are only 2.5 million.  That will be attractive to floor teams.  To say nothing of the fact that, for all the public airing of his foibles in this market, there is sure to be other teams that see enough game ( the consistency of those numbers above... ) as just what they need.

I do think that he will be here next year, and that the question of his "last" deal will be all about hometown discounts and "wanting to finish my career here", but it would be foolish to not see the other way this could go.  If that does go down, it would be sad to see him go.  But change is inevitable in everything in life.

I have no doubt he would be signed here after he retired ( if the next market did not fall in love with him, which is possible ! ), and you would think his career after hockey would be set.  Whether it is here or elsewhere is the question that will percolate over the summer.