If Kevin Bieksa would've tested the free-agent waters, he probably would've found them to be warm and relaxing as he did backstrokes around more money than he's ever imagined.
Instead, the 30-year-old defenseman put his family first and likely took less money to stay with the Vancouver Canucks, signing a five-year, $23 million contract Tuesday. Bieksa would have had plenty of suitors for his services with the free-agency period starting Friday, but instead opted to stay with the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2001 Entry Draft and community his wife and children have to come to love.
"I never really thought about leaving Vancouver," Bieksa said. "If the opportunity was here for me to come back, I was going to do everything I could to make it happen. My family is very happy in Vancouver and I've been here my whole career. I don't think there's many cities in North America that can beat Vancouver. It was an easy decision to commit to them."
Bieksa made his debut in 2005, playing in 39 games as a rookie. In 347 career games, the native of Grimsby, Ont., has 34 goals and 113 assists. He's coming off a season in which he was plus-32 while mostly playing alongside Dan Hamhuis. In the playoffs, Bieksa had 5 goals and 5 assists in 25 games, including the series-clinching goal in double overtime against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.
For GM Mike Gillis, keeping Bieksa and Hamhuis together was a top priority.
"We felt that he and Dan were a really solid pair for us," Gillis said. "They've had an opportunity to play together for a long time. We consider both guys core players here. We wanted he and Dan to be in a position to be play together for the next five years."
Yet at the start of the 2010-11, there were few who didn't believe Bieksa eventually would be traded.
The Canucks loaded up along the blue line during the summer, picking up Hamhuis via free agency and Keith Ballard via trade with the Florida Panthers. Bieksa looked to be the odd man out at that time, but an offseason injury to Sami Salo appeared to be the phone call from the governor that spared Bieksa.
"I never really thought about leaving Vancouver. If the opportunity was here for me to come back, I was going to do everything I could to make it happen. My family is very happy in Vancouver and I've been here my whole career. I don't think there's many cities in North America that can beat Vancouver." -- Kevin Bieksa
Still, rumors swirled that when Salo was healthy enough to return during the season, it would spell the end of Bieksa's time in Vancouver. Instead, Bieksa put together his most complete season as a pro and has a new long-term contract -- and a no-trade clause -- to show for it.
"I'm sorry to all the media members out there, specifically TSN, that's made a living on some of these rumors the last couple summers," Bieksa cracked. "All joking aside, I'm going to be here for five years and I'll do my best to help this team win."
Bieksa told anyone that would listen he wanted to come back to Vancouver. It's something that made everyone involved happy -- fans, management, players. But there was one person who could've done without all of the loyalty being expressed publicly -- Bieksa's agent.
"I probably didn't make his job the easiest," Bieksa said. "At the end of the day, I told everybody it wasn't about money. That wasn't a determining factor. I probably made his job a lot harder. But I think it was a pretty easy deal to get done and we got it done pretty quickly."