I wonder what's going through Kevin Bieksa's mind these days. Everybody from Mark Spector to your grandma knows that he's on the block, that Gillis is fielding offers from all over the league, and that he'll likely have to move before training camp begins. That has to be an awful, awful feeling. Apart from feeling giddy when Dustin Byfuglien was sentenced to life in Atlanta, I tend to have sympathy for hockey players who are suddenly forced to uproot their lives. People get upset when players get no-movement clauses--even more so when they invoke them--but how wonderful would it be to do something you love without the looming threat that you'll be forced to move against your will? Caught up in trade rumours and with one foot out the door, does Kevin Bieksa deserves our sympathy?
He certainly won't be receiving our love. Fans are still furious over the swan dives that gave Kris Versteeg a free path to the net in game four of the Chicago-Vancouver series, and for most of us, it was the last straw. Guys like Tatoes over at Canucks.com have been banging the drum for years, but the paradigm has shifted, and he's no longer in the minority: Vancouver fans no longer want Kevin Bieksa.
Some continue to bang his drum. Bieksa can bring grit, offense, and a genuinely surly attitude. It's hard to forget his 42-point season, which, at the time, drew some comparisons to Jay Bouwmeester and garnered some Team Canada chatter. His inconsistent regular-season play has been blamed on those freak muscle lacerations, and it's certainly a convincing argument. Here's Canucks.com poster RUPERTKBD with a very, very valid point:
Here's something for you to try:Take a sharp metal instrument and slice the muscles and tendons in one of your legs. Then spend a few months healing and rehabbing. Finally, as soon as you are physically able, step back into the pressure of playing in the fastest, most physical league in the world, playing a sport that relies heavily on the use of your legs.Before I forget, for maximum effect, this procedure should be repeated two years in a row.
Absolutely correct. Bieksa's leg injuries have no doubt affected his ability to be the sort of player he was before they occurred. But the circumstances have not been enough to prevent AV from joining the ranks of those fed up with Juice. Mark Spector claims Alain Vigneault has soured on him also:
[...] people who are close to the Canucks say that head coach Alain Vigneault isn’t real big on Bieksa anymore. He wanted more responsibility this past season, we’re told, and when he got it in the playoffs he was not reliable.
Unreliable indeed. Here's the problem: injuries or not, Bieksa is inconsistent on a cosmic scale. Let's recall that his damningly poor play to throw game four came on the heels of his history-making game-winner in game three. Bieksa's successful pinches lead to game-winning goals. Problem is, his stupid mistakes tend to as well. It seems to me that AV is tired of the dizzying disparity of his play and its results. Kevin Bieksa is a defenseman capable of playing at the high level of the NHL's elite defenseman. Recall that he had 43 points the same season Jay Bouwmeester had 42, and cashed in for nearly $7M a season from the Flames. But Bieksa is not an elite defenseman, because, for every moment where he looks like Jay Bouwmeester in Florida, there's a moment where he looks like Jay Bouwmeester in Calgary: unimpressive, sometimes downright detrimental.
Spector also states, "Either Bieksa thinks he’s better than he is, or for some reason, he’s not playing to his potential." In truth, it's both. Kevin Bieksa knows that he can be better than he's been the last two seasons, and I'm sure it's weighing heavily on him that he's gone from help to hindrance. That he's had to ask for more responsibility, rather than simply being worthy of it (as he was back in 08-09) must tear him apart. Problem is, when he gets it, he's trying to do too much, trying to force an all-star resurgence, and it's affecting his play. Don't be fooled by that smug, surly look on his face: it's not overconfidence, it's frustration--frustration that he can't get back to where he once was. Maybe, for a time, the injuries held him back, but I think he's physically strong. It's his mental strength that's taken a beating. A change of scenery and a fresh start can only help.
So don't feel bad for Kevin Bieksa. A trade might yield larger returns for him than they do for us.