Kevin Bieksa was late arriving at Vancouver International Airport on Sunday morning. He didn't have a lengthy breakfast with the Hockey Night in Canada crew following his third post-game appearance Saturday as an After Hours segment guest, but that wouldn't have been surprising. The blueliner has been popular on and off the ice.

The irony is that Bieksa hasn't been late-arriving in a season where so many thought he might be playing elsewhere. But as injury fate on the back end would have it — to say nothing of Bieksa's improved play and plus-25 ranking that's second in the NHL — a healthy start and outlook have laid the foundation for a season that will test management to see if the unrestricted free agent is a future fit with the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's everything," said Bieksa. "I always said being healthy is the first thing. And having a full training camp and a great partner on a pretty good team with good goaltending, I'm just kind of a product of that."

It's more than that. Developing chemistry with the steady Dan Hamhuis allowed Bieksa to be more patient and make better pinches knowing that his partner had his back. There was no helter-skelter. There was poise and enough pugnaciousness to keep the opposition honest. And now that it could be musical pairings on Monday in St. Louis with Hamhuis (concussion), Keith Ballard (knee strain) and Alex Edler (lower-back surgery) sidelined, it's only bringing into better focus the season Bieksa is having. He has gone from a minus to plus player, from trade bait to perhaps baiting the contract-extension hook.

After all, when Ballard and Hamhuis were acquired, Bieksa looked like the sacrificial salary cap lamb before Sami Salo ruptured an Achilles' tendon on July 22. Even though his name would surface again in trade debate, Bieksa resolved to remain calm and concentrate on his game. His teammates certainly noticed. Bieksa paired with Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome on Saturday in a 4-2 win over Calgary and has become the glue on a back end that's trying to keep from coming unglued. Although not on pace to match his breakout 42-point season in 2006-07, Bieksa has 19 points (6-13) in 55 games and is a better all-round player.