One of the most universally hated men in the entire National Hockey League may have reached the end of his career.
In a recent article for The Hockey News writer Jared Clinton touched on the current situation for veteran NHL defenseman Kevin Bieksa and indicated his belief that Bieksa may very well have played his final game as an NHL defenseman. It's hard to blame Clinton here as we have now reached the end of August and Bieksa is still without an NHL contract, a sign that teams' around the league no longer value his skills enough to make him a contract offer.
Unfortunately for Bieksa there are a lot of good reasons for NHL teams to look over him at this stage of his career as he has shown a rapid decline in recent years. Once a dominating physical presence on the Vancouver Canucks blue line Bieksa quickly became one of the most reviled men in the league for his punishing play style as well as his willingness to cross the line and get dirty when he felt in necessary. Although his antics quickly endeared him to fans of the Vancouver Canucks he quickly built a poor reputation around the rest of the league, although one could argue that this served him well early on in his career.
A move to Anaheim however was a sign that the Canucks no longer felt the veteran could bring what he once had to the table and although that seemed somewhat premature in his first season with the Anaheim Ducks the next two seasons that followed supported that view. Bieksa saw a steep decline in his second year in Anaheim and not only did his speed fall off of a cliff but his ice time went right along with it. The once heavily relied upon defenseman vent from over 21 minutes a night in ice time down to just over 18 minutes on average over the next two seasons. It was the first sign that the Ducks as well were also losing faith in Bieksa and the ultimate confirmation of that came when the Ducks made no effort to sign him to a new deal this summer when he became an unrestricted free agent.
In spite of his rapidly fading set of skills Clinton believes that Bieksa could still get a professional tryout offer from an NHL team, although he feels like Bieksa would likely be an early cut in training camp and could potentially end up playing somewhere else outside of the NHL next season or possibly even retiring. Clinton did not speculate on what teams would consider such a move and I genuinely struggle to think of a general manager who would take the risk at this time.
Bieksa perhaps has no one but himself to blame for the lack of interest this season. He's coming off a poor season in which he appeared in just 59 regular season games where he recorded no goals and 8 assists for a combined 8 points and finished with a plus minus rating of -13. In the playoffs Bieksa was relegated to the press box after being made a healthy scratch and the optics of that are horrible for other teams around the league. Add to that the fact that Bieksa's reputation and behavior on the ice has likely rubbed more than a few players the wrong way, something that could easily disrupt existing locker room chemisty were Bieksa to be brought in, and the risk begins to look increasingly unappealing.
If this is the end it has unquestionably been a memorable career for Bieksa.