Kevin Bieksa spent 10 of his 13 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks during his career. The defenseman is remembered for a few big on-ice moments and being a fan favorite due to his humor off the ice. His journey to the NHL wasn’t a traditional one and featured an interesting story.
Journey to the League
Bieksa was drafted by the Mississauga IceDogs in the OHL but opted to play for the Bowling Green Falcons of the CCHA. He was drafted 151st overall by the Canucks in the 2001 Draft. He signed a tryout contract with the team in March 2004. General manager Brian Burke offered Bieksa a contract after an off-ice incident with Fedor Federov, where he had knocked Federov down outside of a bar. The incident was the start of Bieksa’s pro-hockey career.
He played four games with the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks’ affiliate team at the time in 2003-04, and then played 80 games the next season. During his time in the AHL, he played with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. The trio was the heart and soul of the Canucks team that went to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. He played 23 games in 2005-06 before getting called up to play 39 games on the main roster.
Time With the Canucks
Bieksa won the Babe Pratt Trophy for best defenseman on the team and the Fred J. Hume Award for the team’s unsung hero in 2006-07. He became a fan favorite early with the Canucks, which is evident through the votes he earned for the two team awards. He had 12 goals and 41 points in 81 games, which earned him a three-year extension beginning in 2008-09 and ending in 2010-11. His 12 goals that season set his career-high but his career-high in points came in 2011-12 when he had 44 points in 82 games.
2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The 2010-11 season is one of the best in Canucks history. The team had the best franchise record that season and a lot of players were playing the best hockey of their careers. Bieksa ranked second in plus/minus among defenders with a plus-32, only behind Zdeno Chara. Bieksa shined in the playoffs as he led the team’s defenders with five goals.
Related: The Evolution of Brad Marchand
His biggest goal came in double overtime of Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks during the Western Conference Final. His game-winning goal sent the Canucks to their third Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. It wasn’t a clean goal as the puck hit the stanchion after Alex Edler tried to keep the play onside. Most of the players on the ice lost sight of the puck except for Bieksa, who shot it past Antti Niemi for the win.
“It was an ugly goal but definitely one you will take,” a grinning Bieksa said amid the celebrations in the Canuck dressing room. “It was a knuckleball. I barely got enough wood on it to get it on the net. It was probably the ugliest goal of my career, but the biggest.”
Post-2011 Stanley Cup Final
After 2010-11, Bieksa signed a five year, $23-million extension with the Canucks. The team traded Christian Ehrhoff’s rights due to the lack of cap space. In the first season under his new contract, he posted a career-high in points. He was unable to hit the 40-point mark in the following three seasons and his points started to decline.
Canucks traded Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks for a 2016 second-round pick after the 2014-15 season. The trade came as the Canucks were starting to transition from the older core, which he was a key part of, to a younger one. He played his last three seasons with the Ducks, where they made an appearance in the Western Conference Final in 2016-17.
Bieksa only played in eight playoff games that season due to a lower-body injury. He retired after the 2017-18 season as he struggled to sign with a team.
Throughout his 13 seasons in the NHL, Bieksa will be remembered for a few things, which range from his toughness on the ice, big goals such as the one in Game 5 of the WCF in 2010-11, and his jokes off the ice.
He’s also remembered for being a great teammate. An example of that is his relationship with the late Rick Rypien. Rypien committed suicide in 2011 and Bieksa continues to tell his teammate and friend’s story to this day to promote awareness of and decrease the stigma around mental illness.
“Up until five years ago I had never heard anything about mental illness in my career,” Bieksa says. “Everything I ever heard was ‘Be mentally tough’ — coaches would say it means sucking it up and playing through injury and not complaining and doing whatever it takes to perform. So certainly I’m hoping it’s better now, but we have a long way to go.”
Becoming a Media Star
Bieksa’s post-NHL career has gone well due to his personality. He has landed a job as a co-host on Hockey Night in Canada and hosts a podcast alongside former teammate Ryan Kesler. In February, Bieksa gave a speech at the Sedin twins’ jersey retirement ceremony, where he spoke about what the twins and the rest of his former teammates were like off the ice.
Bieksa’s personality shows that he will be apart of the game for decades to come. His job on HNIC and his podcast should open up more opportunities for him in the future.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.