It left the Canucks better, but reeking of extravagance. Six defencemen making more than $3 million US. Eight making more than $1 million. This, on a team which had a payroll drifting well north of the salary cap. This, on a team which has a glaring hole on both its second and third lines.
Even Kevin Bieksa couldn’t seem to believe his GM’s confidence when, on TSN’s Off the Record in July, he conceded the point that something had to give: “I’m not an idiot. I can put two and two together.”
And so did a lot of other people. Many of whom have long been convinced Bieksa, the lone blueliner who has value but not a no-trade, was on his way out.
But seven weeks later, the rumours are the same in both apparent suitors for his services and in their regularity. But the climate is not.
Sami Salo ruptured his Achilles tendon playing floor ball in Finland. He is out indefinitely (probably until January). Willie Mitchell is unsigned and many suspect when he is, it won’t be with Vancouver.
And Bieksa is here, in Vancouver wearing a Canucks uniform several weeks before training camp, skating with his teammates (and Mitchell) and acting like nothing ever happened.
“He’s a consummate professional,” Bieksa’s agent Kurt Overhardt said. “He knows he has to show up, and have a great attitude and be ready for the season.
“He’s absolutely been able to separate what’s being talked about and what he has to do on the ice for his team because he is mature beyond his years.”
Bieksa said: “It’s been a very normal summer for me. I just go home and I work out and I hang out with my family. That’s what I did this summer. That’s what I’ve done every summer. I don’t even know what the rumours are.”
Sure, he doesn’t.
What he does know, however, is the Canucks were actively exploring opportunities to deal him early in the offseason. But they have backed off recently.
Bieksa has had some communication in that time with Gillis, believed to be when they were both in Toronto a couple weeks ago.
“[But] not very much,” Bieksa said “I never have really communicated with the GM before in the summer. It’s usually you do your own thing, get in shape and relax. And they have business to do.”
The Canucks will still look at trading Bieksa. But they aren’t in a rush. It’s moved the betting line. People are beginning to see there remains a good chance now Bieksa will start the season with Vancouver. There are a number of reasons why.
The trade market is barren (see Tomas Kaberle). The Canucks have some flexibility under the salary cap with both Alex Burrows and Salo expected to start the season on injured reserve.
Bieksa is the Canucks’ only healthy defencemen, among eight, with a right-handed shot. Losing him now would begin to unravel Gillis’s nearly single-minded pursuit this offseason — to get better and deeper on defence.
With valid reason. For four years in a row, the Canucks have not had enough defencemen to remain competitive at the end of the year.
“We obviously brought in a lot of depth on defence,” Bieksa said. “We’ve had some freakish injuries the past couple of years, so that’s probably a good thing.”
Trading Bieksa, which would conceivably leave Andrew Alberts No. 6 on the depth chart, does nothing to remedy past problems.
“My mindset has been the same. Come to camp in as good shape as I can and get ready,” Bieksa said.
“I had a good summer back home, just relaxing. I’m kind of used to this thing by now. So, I don’t put a lot into it. I didn’t read the latest rumour.”
Maybe he should. It suggests he’s staying. For now.
Note: Willie Mitchell was skating with Bieksa, and some of the other Canucks on Tuesday.
Mitchell hadn’t announced his decision on where he will sign. Fans should probably not read too much into the fact he’s skating in Vancouver with Canucks.
“We’ve been close for a long time,” Bieksa said of Mitchell. “It’s nice to hang out with him a little bit before he makes his decision.”