Among the many story lines coming out of the Vancouver Canucks’ first-round series against the Calgary Flames, one of the more concerning ones for Canuck fans has been the play of the defense pairing that consists of Luca Sbisa, and more specifically, veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa. Whether it be costly turnovers, scrambling out of position or ill-timed quotes, the two defenders have been under much scrutiny from supporters and media alike. While the two weren’t as prominent as they were throughout the first four games of the series in the final two contests of the series, it still doesn’t change the fact that there are serious concerns surrounding the two of them, and in specific, the 33-year-old Bieksa.
It’s clear that the Vancouver blue line needs a major overhaul, and moving out Bieksa would be the most logical move on a couple of fronts. First of all, the Canucks are going to have a log-jam on right-side defense, with Frankie Corrado clearly ready for the big league and Adam Clendening requiring waivers next season, as well as Yannick Weber, who Jim Benning recently expressed serious interest in bringing back, making it tough for Bieksa to keep playing like he has been and maintain a spot in the lineup. Another aspect working against Bieksa is the fact that management has expressed that they wish to get younger, and keeping 33-year-old Bieksa, the oldest member of the Canucks defensive core, is not helping matters in that regard, especially considering the fact that the aforementioned Clendening and Corrado are significantly younger, and arguably more effective options. When one also takes into account the fact that Bieksa takes up $4.6 million of cap-space, and that the Canucks are a team lacking in cap-room, Bieksa is not an attractive player for this organization in the slightest.
Of all the everyday defenders on the roster, Bieksa is likely the easiest one to move. Alex Edler and Chris Tanev aren’t going anywhere. Benning recently signed 25-year-old Swiss defender Luca Sbisa to a three-year deal worth $10.8 million dollars, and has continuously sung the praises of Sbisa, claiming that he could one day end up being a top-four defenceman for the Canucks, while Dan Hamhuis is unlikely to waive his no-trade-clause for any organization (Bieksa boasts a NTC as well, but we’ll get into that later.) However, you might be asking yourself, “why would any team want to take on Bieksa?” Well, the answer is actually relatively simple: his salary. Despite his $4.6 million cap-hit, the Grimsby, Ontario native only makes $2.5 million next season, something that will undoubtedly go over well any team’s ownership. Also taking into account that he has only one year left on his current contract, the financial situation surrounding Kevin Bieksa is not all that bad for a team that has cap flexibility.
As mentioned earlier, the NTC for Bieksa is undoubtedly the biggest hurdle to overcome for the Canucks. He has said time and time again that he has no wishes of leaving the organization, and wants to retire in Vancouver, but, if management is able to convince him that his services are no longer needed with the Canucks, and that they have no intentions of bringing him back after next season, they may be able to make him believe it wouldn’t be worth his while to put up a fight. Of course, there is always the option of buying out Bieksa, which, while not exactly pleasurable to ownership, would most certainly be the easiest way out, and likely the least stressful for the organization.
Time will tell whether Bieksa, a life-time Canuck and alternate captain, will be on the roster come October. If Jim Benning and Trevor Linden are able to pull it off, fantastic, the Canucks franchise is likely better for it. If not, it may leave management with some tough decisions regarding some other pieces of the Canucks blue line, and would leave them in an awkward position cap-wise. Would it be tough for fans to see Bieksa go? Sure it would, the guy has been a warrior for this team and is without-question one of the most entertaining and outspoken players on the club. However, shipping Kevin Bieksa out is a logical move, and it’s no guarantee that he will be a part of the team moving forward. It will be a story line worth watching for Canucks fans.