You could have predicted the Vancouver Canucks would get off to a mediocre start this season. After all, they had a shorter summer than almost every other NHL team, and they’ve started slow in each of the last three seasons.
However, would you have believed me if I told you that Kevin Bieksa, who was second in the NHL plus-minus category last season with a plus-32 rating, would be minus-nine after just 17 games this season? Probably not, but perhaps nothing should surprise you about Bieksa because his career in hockey thus far has been anything but normal.
Now don’t read too much into the photo comparison to Benjamin Button because Kevin Bieksa is certainly not aging backward. However, his performance hasn’t exactly followed the trend of how most professional athlete’s progress with age.
There are moments when Bieksa looks like an All-Star. In these moments he shows his ability to handle the puck with confidence and delivers big hits with precision timing. Unfortunately, there are other moments when he completely loses track of his check and looks lost in his own zone.
In fact, if you go back and examine his career to date, Bieksa has alternated between great seasons and either a subpar or unfortunate seasons ever since he joined the Canucks full time. In 2006-07, he was a pleasant surprise and looked like one of the next great D-men in the NHL. In 2007-08, he suffered a nasty calf laceration and missed most of the season. When he did play, he struggled to find his game. However, he bounced back and recorded 43 points in 2008-09 before playing poorly and suffering yet another laceration in 2009-10.
Considering last season was his best ever, you could say he’s doomed to take a step backward and continue his subpar play for the remainder of this season. That might not be the best way to look at it, though. After all, you can’t predict the unpredictable, and Bieksa continues to prove he’s one of the most unpredictable players in recent Canucks' history.
Perhaps the reason Bieksa has gone through so many peaks and valleys is because he’s a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. He can go through stages where every aspect of his game is clicking, but because he’s not gifted enough in any one area, he can’t rely on a particular strength to get him through the stretches when he isn’t as sharp.
You could also point to his high-risk, high-reward style of play that has caused such a large swing in his plus-minus stats.
Then again, maybe he’s just one of those players who will always be an unusual study. After all, Bieksa has suffered an extremely rare type of injury not once, but twice. He is also among a small minority of NHL players who played university hockey and stayed in school for all four years before turning pro.
By the time he played his first full season in the NHL, he was already 25 years old. Granted, these circumstances aren’t as unusual as the circumstances that Benjamin Button entered the world under, but they aren’t exactly normal compared to most NHL players.
The Canucks clearly love Bieksa because of his leadership skills along with his attributes on the ice, and that’s why he was chosen as one of the alternate captains two years ago. It’s also why he was re-signed to a long-term contract extension this summer, so it’s obvious that the organization is willing to except the ups and downs that come with a player who has had such a curious career so far.
Maybe the best way to describe Kevin Bieksa is as a wild card. You don’t know what you’re going to get from him on a nightly basis. Maybe you’ll get lucky or maybe you won’t. The good news for Canucks fans is that the only time Bieksa has really been somewhat consistent is in the playoffs. Hopefully he can maintain this consistency in the spring of 2012 despite his slow start to the regular season.
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