We’re one day away from the start of NHL free agency and the rumours mill is churning. With respect to Vancouver Canucks, no name has been rumoured more than Kevin Bieksa. With the acquisition of Keith Ballard, many (including yours truly) have theorized that this makes Bieksa a little bit redundant. Personally I think it’s time to ship Bieksa out of town.
Why he needs to go:
Bieksa is now three years removed from his breakout season in which he was the team’s best defenceman. Since then, his play his slipped. He no longer plays with the kind passion and intensity that endeared himself to Canucks fans. He has been able to put up some decent numbers, mostly due to getting a lot of (I believe) undeserved power play time.
Right now Bieksa is an anchor on the Canucks salary cap. He makes $3.75 million, he’s not capable of playing against the other team’s top lines, he’s not good on the penalty kill and is probably their third best defenceman on the power play.
So just what could Bieksa fetch the Canucks? I think they could get a very nice player for their third line in return, or perhaps a draft pick. That draft pick could be used to fetch something at the trading deadline or restock their prospect cupboard.
You may be asking, why on earth would the Canucks trade Kevin Bieksa when their biggest weakness is defense? The answer, I suggest, is that will clear cap space to sign a better free agent defenceman.
Here’s a list of the top free agent defencemen that Mike Gillis should be targetting:
The numbers: Averaged 21-22 minutes of ice time and is usually a plus player with an average Nashville team. Typically puts up about 25 points per season and rarely gets injured.
Why he would be a good fit: He’s a BC boy and a good stay-at-home defenceman. He would probably step in as the Canucks #1 shutdown defenceman, replacing Willie Mitchell.
What will he cost? There aren’t many good free agent d-men so you’ll probably have to overspend a little. He could make $5 million per season on a long term deal.
The numbers: He usually averages about 20-21 minutes per night with Ottawa and puts up about 15 points per season. He’s almost always a plus player, playing against the other team’s top lines on a nightly basis. He’s always one of the shot blocking leaders in the league as well.
Why he would be a good fit: Tough, stay-at-home defenceman that plays big minutes and blocks shots against the other team’s top lines. What team wouldn’t want that?
What will he cost? In a similar situation to Hamhuis and will probably fetch about $4-4.5 million
The numbers: Averages 23-24 minutes per night on a good New Jersey team. Was their #1 defenceman the last few years. Almost always a plus player while putting up 30 points per season and can play on the power play and penalty kill.
Why he would be a good fit: Would step in as the Canucks #1 d-man. He can do it all and eats big minutes.
What will he cost? About $5 million per season.
The Best Fit
Right now Dan Hamhuis and even Anton Volchenkov are getting most of the publicity but I think that Paul Martin might be the best fit for the Canucks. Having a defenceman that can play big minutes and can contribute in all facets of the game is something they sorely lack. With that said, if they can get Hamhuis, Volchenkov or Martin for around $5 million and shed Bieksa’s contract they will be much better off. That kind of a move would be essentially trading your 5th defenceman for your #1 or 2 defenceman for only $1.25 million. If I were a betting man, I would put money on Hamhuis coming here, because he’s a BC boy and probably wants to play in a traditional hockey market after years in Nashville.
The Third Line
Mike Gillis has hinted that he wants to reconstruct his third line, which could come in the way of younger players stepping up like Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder. I don’t think he can bank on that though, and will probably go looking to free agency to help out the third line. There’s been talk of Colby Armstrong coming to town, but he’s going to command over $3 million which is too pricey given their pay structure. Matt Cullen falls much into the same category, but he’s a former client of Gillis, so who knows.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that Mike Gillis needs to improve his defence, first and foremost. Going into next season with Keith Ballard instead of Willie Mitchell isn’t going to cut it. Changes need to made and Bieksa is the guy to move. Hamhuis, Volchenkov and Martin will be overpaid, but if they’re not ridiculously overpaid then the Canucks need to try to sign one of them. The third line needs to be improved with some players with grit who can also score, but that’s going to be difficult to add through free agency. Ideally they would add that piece in a trade for Bieksa.
Enjoy the silly season!