Sharks interested in Kevin Bieksa, about three years too late
Once a legitimate top-pairing defenseman, Bieksa has severely declined over the past three seasons.
Veteran Canucks defenseman and perennial thorn in the side of the Sharks franchise Kevin Bieksa is on the trading block as Vancouver management may or may not have asked him to waive his no-trade clause earlier today. If he's willing to leave British Columbia, it appears as though the Sharks are keenly interested in adding the 34-year-old to their blueline:
Don't know how far along it is...but Sharks appear to be very interested in Bieksa.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 26, 2015
As much as the Sharks could use more NHL-caliber defensemen on their roster, this would be a curious move to say the least. Bieksa was once an important half of one of the Western Conference's best shutdown defense pairs and, as Sharks fans will need no help remembering, a huge part of the Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. That was four years ago and the aging process hasn't been kind to Bieksa, who's signed for one more season at a $4.6 million cap hit (but only $2.5 million in salary, which is likely a big part of his appeal to San Jose). For starters, his defensive play has atrophied to sub-replacement level over the past three seasons:
Furthermore, as Rhys Jessop of Canucks Army broke down here, Bieksa has gone from a player whose presence on the ice correlated strongly with Vancouver controlling possession and scoring chances to someone the Canucks have largely been better without. His defensive gaffes, particularly in the Canucks' last two playoff exits, have been frequent and glaring.
In fairness to Bieksa, a lot of his recent struggles can be chalked up to playing heavy minutes with awful partners like Luca Sbisa and Ryan Stanton. On the other hand, unless the Sharks plan to pair him with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and deploy him in shutdown minutes he's almost certainly no longer capable of effectively playing, they don't necessarily have a significantly better left-side defenseman than Sbisa or Stanton to partner Bieksa up with. If Matt Irwin is re-signed, a blueline of Vlasic-Braun, Irwin-Burns and Dillon-Bieksa could potentially work but trading assets for a declining 34-year-old defenseman who will play on your third pairing and take up nearly $5 million in cap space isn't the greatest idea.
Given the poor quality of his recent defense partners, the numbers don't tell the whole story regarding how effective 2015-era Bieksa could be. There's a chance he's still a decent second pairing defenseman or a good third pairing guy in the right situation and, as the chart above shows, Bieksa remains above-average at driving offense from the blueline with his breakout passing and shooting ability. At the same time, armed with ample cap space and staring down a free agent period that features several younger, better and more versatile blueliners, the Sharks can do a lot better than Kevin Bieksa.