NHL Free Agents: Kevin Bieksa Re-Signs with Vancouver Canucks

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NHL Free Agents: Kevin Bieksa Re-Signs with Vancouver Canucks
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Kevin Bieksa has signed a new five-year, $4.6 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks prior becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

This is important to Vancouver fans because Bieksa is an integral part of the defence, and losing him would be a huge hole in the roster.

It is important for the rest of the NHL, because Bieksa was the best all-around defenseman scheduled to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

Thomas Kaberle might have won the Stanley Cup, and fellow Canuck Christian Ehrhoff might have more offensive prowess, but Bieksa has two important qualities which they don't, qualities that GM's crave.

First, he is versatile, able to play either an offensive role or a shutdown role, whatever is required to win.

Second, he elevates his game in the playoffs.

Other teams such as San Jose, Detroit and Toronto were rumoured to be in the hunt for Bieksa on July 1, but now they'll have to turn to other options.

For Vancouver, Bieksa's worth can't be understated: $4.6 million is a bargain.

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In the regular season, he put up 22 points, good for fourth amongst Canucks defenseman. 

But more telling than mere points, in a shutdown role he led the team in plus-minus, with a plus-32 rating. 

Bieksa also put up 104 hits and 93 blocked shots, good for second and third respectively in those categories amongst Canucks defenders.

Come the playoffs, and Bieksa's true worth appeared, as he elevated his play to match the intensity of the playoffs. 

He was third in points by a defenseman on the Canucks with 10 points in 25 games. But he was first amongst the defence in goals with five, including the dramatic double-overtime goal that sent the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals.

As in the regular season, Bieksa led all Canucks defenders in plus-minus with a plus-6 rating in the playoffs.

He threw the most hits (88) and had the most fights (three) of any NHL player, Canuck or otherwise, in the 2011 playoffs.

At $4.6 million per year, Bieksa gave up some potential money to stay in Vancouver at a hometown discount.

Also, with fellow shutdown defenseman Dan Hamhuis making comparable money at $4.5 million per year, there is an effective glass ceiling on the cap hits for any other defenseman on the Canucks.

With his most important pending free agent now under contract, general manager Mike Gillis can focus his attention on Christian Ehrhoff. 

If Ehrhoff signs an deal prior to July 1, it will be equivalent to what Bieksa and Hamhuis are making. If he wants more money, expect to see him sign elsewhere on July 1.

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