“You Can’t Hold the Cards Forever”


During an interview with Ben Kuzma and Jason Botchford (from The Province) on Team 1040 radio, Barry MacDonald spoke about Mike Gillis’ cap room situation, and the Vancouver Canucks need to move Kevin Bieksa, soon.

With the somewhat surprising additions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard to the Vancouver defensive core, Kevin Bieksa looks to have played his last game as a Canuck.  After losing in the second round to the cup-winning Blackhawks, the situation wasn’t as transparent.  Everyone knew changes were on the way, and probably to the defensive structure, but initially Bieksa was only one of a few names bandied about.   But the impending Free Agent arbitration meeting next week over Mason Raymond has given Bieksa’s position a more cellophane appearance.

Because Arbitrators used in the process are not “hockey” people, but rather “numbers” people, it would appear that Mason Raymond will be set to receive at least $3 M per season, with Jason Botchford and Ben Kuzma hinting that number could gravitate closer to $4 M per season.  Players such as Atlanta’s Clarke MacArthur, who was awarded a $2.4 M per season ruling in arbitration (that ATL declined the option on) for his 16 goal, 19 assist campaign, as well as Toronto’s Nikolai Kulemin who has been signed to a 2 year, $2.35 M per season deal (78 games, 16 goals, 20 assists)  had inferior seasons to Raymond.  Raymond scored 25 goals, added 28 assists for 53 points and played all 82 games.   But with the departure of Michael Grabner in the Ballard deal, Mike Gillis’ hands are tied to whatever the arbitrator decides.  Unlike Atlanta, the Canucks cannot afford to let go of a top 6 forward, which is exactly what would happen if they don’t accept the decision next week.  Mason Raymond would become an Unrestricted Free Agent, with the caveat that the team that signs him would have to pay the amount decided in arbitration.

Word out of Anaheim Wednesday night was that, because of the interest of at least six teams, that the asking price on Bieksa has inched upward.  Essentially, Gillis has stated that he’ll move Kevin to the highest bidder.  Initially, it was a higher draft pick, but now the price has reached a high draft pick and a prospect.  With the retirement of Scott Neidermeyer, Anaheim really needs to bulk up their defense, and appear to be the front-runners for his services.  Other interest has come from Columbus, as well as Washington, and ideally Gillis would like to move him to the Eastern conference.  But as was pointed out in the Team 1040 interview, time is of the essence.  It is true,  that with a type of bidding war starting to take place for Kevin Bieksa (who Botchford referred to as a “poor man’s Pronger”) that Mike Gillis currently “holds the cards”.

In theory, it’s best to try not to ‘leave anything on the table’ when it comes to renumeration for a player of Bieksa’s calibre.  But with rosters, contracts and new signings changing the NHL landscape daily, it’s imperative not to price yourself out of everyone’s market.  I believe the time to square away a deal for Bieksa is very soon, because team needs are shrinking.  Gillis said he wanted to “Make a hockey deal”, and is probably part of the reason why he’s got a good response from other GM’s.  But interest is there, and it seems the competition has stepped up.  Now, all Canuck fans can hope for is that the ‘closer’ in Mike Gillis, the former player agent, steps up and makes a decision soon.  He certainly holds the cards, but as Barry MacDonald said, “You can’t hold the cards forever”.