Can San Jose cash in on a Vancouver blueline with too many defenseman?

As Doug Wilson begins to focus his efforts on obtaining a roster upgrade via the trade market, the attention of Sharks faithful across North America has turned to the rosters of 29 other NHL teams as well. It's my belief that Wilson will be looking at a defenseman for an upgrade due to the rather middling roster currently in place, so I'll be focusing my efforts on many potential deals that could occur throughout the summer.

When that deal comes, at this point, is an unknown. With the holiday weekend upon us many will recall San Jose's trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 4th, 2008 that saw Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich head to the Sharks in exchange for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, and a first round draft selection. It's no secret that Wilson will be working the phones hard for the near future, and could strike at any moment until training camp begins in mid-September.

 A potential target for Wilson's sniping? Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver is a team who is in a similar position as the Sharks were last offseason-- too much money tied up in their roster, with restricted free agents still needing to be re-signed. Bieksa has gotten the majority of press out of Vancouver in the last few days, with the media reporting that he would be the most likely cap casualty out of Vancouver.

After acquiring Keith Ballard in a trade last Friday and landing Dan Hamhuis on Thursday, the Vancouver Canucks general manager now has eight blueliners under contract next season for $24.1 million US. That doesn't include restricted free agent Shane O'Brien, who was tendered a $1.6 million qualifying offer.

The scenario won't stop speculation that Kevin Bieksa is about to be dealt with $3.75 million left next season on an expiring contract.

>> Vancouver Province

The Province believes that Bieksa's return would be some type of draft pick salary dump in order to clear space. San Jose has selections in every round next season except the fourth and seventh.

A third round pick would be the best situation for the Sharks to give up in a potential deal, with a second being a likely possibility considering the number of offers Bieksa has garnered around the NHL. Jason Botchford of The Province is reporting that ten teams have shown interest in the 29 year old defenseman, increasing the price that Gillis will ask for in return for Bieksa's services.

Colombus is one of those teams, with preliminary trade talks having taken place over the last forty eight hours. Former first round pick Nikita Filatov is rumored to have been involved.

Bieksa is a defenseman that was plagued by inconsistency last season, having trouble clearing the zone at times as well as giving up some egregious turnovers in his own end. He's never been the pure shutdown defenseman that I have desired for San Jose to acquire, and has also struggled with injuries over his career as well-- Bieksa missed 27 games with a lacerated leg in 2010, and 47 games in 2008 with a lacerated calf. All of these attributes make him a slight risk for a Sharks team that will be investing $3.75MM in his services, especially if Wilson decides that Bieksa would be the lone acquisition for the blueline heading into 2010-2011.

That being said, he is a definite physical presence in the corners and in front of the net, and would be able to fill the hole left by Rob Blake in San Jose's top four. Bieksa has a blistering shot from the point and good offensive acumen, with a solid first pass out of his zone that can help fuel the breakout and move the puck up the ice. He's more defensively responsible than a player like Tomas Kaberle would be, although it's readily apparent that the offensive skills he brings to the table, while sufficient, would not reach that of the current Maple Leafs blueliner.

Since Bieksa would replace Rob Blake next year in San Jose, let's take a look at some of the relevant even strength statistics both of them have posted in relation to their teammates over the last two seasons. All come courtesy of Behind The Net:


Kevin Bieksa vs. Rob Blake

Year
Player GP G/60 PTS/60 GFON/60 GFOFF/60 GAON/60 GAOFF/60 Qualcomp
08-09 Rob Blake
73
0.22 (2nd)
1.22 (1st)
2.82 (1st)
1.97 (1st)
1.83 (2nd)
1.97 (6th)
0.004 (2nd)

Kevin Bieksa
72
0.26 (1st)
0.78 (2nd)
2.24 (7th)
2.87 (7th)
2.60 (7th)
2.06 (6th)
0.032 (3rd)
09-10 Rob Blake
70
0.11 (4th)
1.06 (2nd)
2.35 (6th)
2.89 (6th)
1.79 (2nd)
2.27 (2nd)
0.042 (1st)

Kevin Bieksa
55
0.13 (5th)
1.00 (2nd)
2.33 (7th)
3.03 (6th)
2.60 (5th)
2.11 (7th)
-0.016 (5th)

For all of those whose brains shut off when hit with a bunch of numbers, this is what the two year sample is telling us-- Bieksa and Blake were both tops on thier team in terms of points produced over sixty minutes, and are capable assist men from the blueline. However, with Bieksa's relatively low quality of competition and high goals against numbers, it would appear that he may be a slight downgrade compared to Rob Blake in the defensive zone.

That could do a lot with Blake riding shotgun with Marc-Edouard Vlasic throughout the last two years, but with the excellent defensive numbers Blake has posted since he joined San Jose in the summer of 2008, his retirement this summer could prove to be a bigger loss than many, including myself, anticipated. His underlying numbers were very good throughout this period despite losing some skating ability as he crept into the forty year old age.

Was Bieksa the best option available for San Jose heading into July 1st? One wouldn't think so considering the number of top three players on the free agent market like Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis, but with the middling pool of talent left available for Wilson, Bieksa remains one of the better choices out on the market today. At least in terms of players who have received attention as being available.

Another possible asset Wilson could use to acquire Bieksa is last summer's trading history with Vancouver, which saw Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich sent out of San Jose due to salary cap troubles.. As I mentioned on Twitter during the first day of free agency, this could help grease the wheels with Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis-- it's not going to be a huge factor in a deal, but if the Sharks have the best deal on the table, it could be another chip Wilson has in his back pocket.

Whether this has any weight is unknown-- after all, Vancouver is one of the Western Conference's elite teams and will be looking to get out of the second round for the first time since 1994. The Sharks are perennial contenders who stand in the Canucks way, making the likelihood of a deal that benefits San Jose at this crucial juncture less of a possibility.

Taking this into account, I'd probably change my tune and say that the Sharks are in worse position because of this, with the previous favor being a factor that Vancouver would brush aside as unimportant.

My final bid for Bieksa? A second round pick, and a middling prospect similar to Patrick White or Daniel Rahimi last summer. One year of Bieksa would be a positive acquisition for the franchise at this price, but after taking a deeper look at the Vancouver defenseman, the amount of salary he commands could be a roadblock for a deal if Doug Wilson is only looking to bring in one blueliner next season.

I really like Bieksa and think he would provide some value to the Sharks, but this is something that gets done later in the summer when Wilson is looking for a final piece to add. Rushing into this without exploring other options first would likely tie his hands too much in the trade market.

 

Go Sharks.

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