The smoldering remains of the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup Final loss have obscured many of the positive aspects of their playoff run. But if you were to list the encouraging developments, Kevin Bieksa(notes) would have been near the top.
The defenseman went from being the most popular trade-bait for cap relief to the team's playoff leader in average ice time (25:40), plus/minus for defensemen (plus-7) and a player that was getting Conn Smythe consideration entering the championship round. Along with being the guy who scored one of the most [expletive] wacky goals in recent playoff history to win the conference finals.
He committed to re-signing with the Canucks and didn't even make it to July 1 as an unrestricted free agent, inking a $23 million over five years deal that caused rejoicing among Canucks fans.
To an outsider, his playoff performance was an image rehabilitation, with thoughts of Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis(notes) uniting to form one of the best shutdown duos in hockey at the forefront for hopeful Canucks fans in 2011-12.
No one this side of Roberto Luongo(notes) is a more divisive figure on the Vancouver Canucks than Kevin Bieksa. Fans often want his head. Local reporters and club supporters, those are the friendly critics.
OK, but didn't the playoffs change …
It seems impossible Bieksa would have been on the Canucks this past season had Sami Salo(notes) not ruptured his Achilles tendon last summer. But he's here now, locked in for five years with a no-trade clause, with the only pro organization he's known since being drafted 151st overall in 2001.
Still, the criticism won't go away. It will only intensify with his new contract. You just can't satisfy everybody.
Shouldn't the criticism have gone away after his postseason effort though?
It's not unprecedented that a playoff hero can't escape past criticisms; hell, Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) won a Stanley Cup and still has fans calling him a liability. But out of all the Canucks who deserve to be targeted by fans for their effectiveness vs. their cost, shouldn't Bieksa have tumbled down from the top of that countdown?