Let’s get one thing out in the open: Kevin Bieksa is not Christian Ehrhoff, and that’s as much of a good thing as it is a bad thing.
When Mike Gillis made the decision to let Ehrhoff go so that he could retain Bieksa over the offseason, few Canucks fans even batted an eye, let alone flinched. And few would, given Bieksa’s heroics during the playoffs (Ehrhoff, conversely, was hit-or-miss throughout the postseason).
The price tag wasn’t cheap — $23-million over five years ($4.6-million for those crunching the numbers). On July 1 when Bieksa inked the extension, other blueliners were signing contracts for far more extravagant prices (James Wisniewski at 6 years, $33M and Ed Jovanovski at 4 years, $16.5M).
But the honeymoon between the fans and Bieksa’s play has long worn off since then. Defensively, he’s been a nightmare, caught swimming in his own end, making out-of-character passes up the middle, and finding himself making unnecessary pinches in order to generate offensive plays. A lot of these traits could be expected out of Ehrhoff, who again isn’t exactly a defensive stud, but not Bieksa, who was arguably the Canucks’ steadiest defenceman outside of Dan Hamhuis.
Simply put, Kevin Bieksa is trying to do too much. Maybe he’s trying to replace some of the offensive void left by Ehrhoff, who put up a 50 spot last season, but by trying to do too much, he’s making mistakes he doesn’t normally make. Bieksa was at his best last season when he kept his game simple, strong first passes out of the zone and a constant snarl around the Canucks crease.
This isn’t the first time Bieksa has been in a funk. We saw this version a lot two years ago. During last spring’s playoffs, Alain Vigneault attributed Bieksa’s improved play to the fact the blueliner “stopped chasing the game”. Somewhere in that hard exterior of KB3, that simplified game is just dying to re-emerge.
Bieksa, stop chasing the game. Let the game come to you.