Is Rome really better then Ballard?
Does Ballard have an undisclosed nagging injury?
Is there problems behind closed doors, and it’s not necessarily his play that are keeping him out?
I wish I knew because it’s driving me insane. I know I started this blog because he is my favourite Canuck, I do not know him and I do not know everything about him. I can’t imagine how he feels right now with all these ups and downs of good games, a few slip ups in the next game and being a scratch. I know the constant questions people ask me because I have this blog frustrate and sadden me because I don’t know why it’s happening, I can imagine it’s got to be 10 times worse for Ballard himself.
This is what I do know.....
When the Canucks acquired Keith Ballard, in a trade, during the draft in June, I didn’t know all that much about him, I looked to my forum friends* for more knowledge. Slowly learning things and in training camp, during interviews he mentioned multiple times that he was excited to be in a huge hockey market, in a city that cares so much about hockey. I was instantly hooked.
I didn’t expect a whole lot at the beginning of the season, he had just come off of off-season hip surgery. Something that kept him off his feet for part of the summer so he was behind on conditioning coming into training camp. I expected a slow start. He also had a new city, a new country, new team mates and becoming a father for the first time to get used to. Some is just part of the life of a professional hockey player, I guess.
His season did start off slow, and only got worse when he suffered a concussion on October 15th in a 4-1 loss to the LA Kings. He missed 5 games due to this and returned to the line up November 1st in a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. However, he played just 4 games before sitting as a ‘healthy scratch’ for 4 games. It has since been said that he still wasn’t feeling 100% when he came back, partly due to just the lack of exercise while dealing with the concussion.
On February 7th he suffered yet another blow when only 2 minutes into a game against the Ottawa Senators he was slew footed by Milan Michalek and an MRI revealed a mild knee sprain and he was said to be out 3-4 weeks. He ended up being back sooner then expected missing only 6 games in a 15 day span. It was said at the time that he hadn’t taken a single day off, from the day he was injured he spent every day rehabbing his knee until his return against the Montreal Canadiens on February 22nd.
Through much of January through March he was paired with young Chris Tanev, a promising upcoming defencemen who ended up playing a much larger roll with the big club this year due to The Canucks blue line injury problems. I said a few times that I couldn’t wait for a healthy blue line so that we could see what Ballard could do when he wasn’t playing a ‘babysitting’ roll being paired with Tanev. However, looking back now I can see how much Ballard actually shined in that roll, I even joked about Tanev being Ballard’s adopted son because they just worked so well together. I now miss this pairing, and would much rather see it then Alberts and Rome, although the physicality factor isn’t there with bean poll baby Tanev.
From there it just seemed to keep going down hill, not that it was ever all that high to begin with. Shortly after he came back from his knee injury he talked about how he still felt pain, and may feel pain for the rest of the season. Jason Botchford also reported that not long after coming back he was suffering from an unreported groin injury. It was around this time that everyone really started getting going on the Rome vs Ballard ice time, debates and jokes. I used to get in on it as well, more of a half joke because I honestly was not that concerned. I was positive that come the end of season and playoffs that we would see a big jump in Ballard’s play and that he would have a huge post season.
Boy was I wrong. Clearly, Ballard did not have a good season even beyond the concussion and knee problems. Looking back on past seasons his point total (7) was very low even taking into account games missed. I wonder if it’s possibly to do with the fact he just couldn’t get going for a long enough pace to feel comfortable. Certain players need set amounts of ice time and a long playing period to get comfortable, his play was broken up all season.
Now the playoffs are here and it’s a very critical time and since he didn’t have a great season, he is on a very short leash for things he can do wrong before he is scratched. After 3 games of below average hockey he was scratched for games 5 and 6 of the Blackhawks first round series. He came back and had a great game, albeit only 11 minutes TOI, in game 7 in which the Canucks won to move onto the second round. He had a great game 1, again with only 11 minutes TOI, in the Predators series and I thought maybe this was the breakout I had predicted. Then game 2 came and he did not play so well, he made a critical giveaway to Jordin Tootoo with the game tied and then was out of position on the OT goal allowing the Predators to score and tie the series 1-1.
I’m not going to debate who the better players are, who deserves to be in because that has been beat to death. I’m going in a different direction, how all this must feel for Ballard. The big thing Alain Vigneault has said that money doesn’t determine who he plays, or how much he plays a certain player. Understandable, however, a player is paid based on how well they play and are expected to continue playing. How does Ballard feel being paid 4.2 million dollars, and he is sat in favour of a player who is paid $750,000? Does he feel that he has sunk down that much as a player? He gets to sit in the press box and watch Rome play average hockey and make the same, if not more, giveaways but still get played over him. Perhaps Rome gets more lee-way because he isn’t expected to be a star defencemen and these mistakes are more acceptable in the mind of the coaching staff. Overall, this has to be affecting his confidence in himself.
His confidence has to be pretty low, even though in a recent interview he says it hasn’t effected his confidence. When you watch interviews from the beginning of the season, or even from just a month ago you see a happy, joking, sarcastic guy. You look at interviews over the past couple weeks and you see someone who doesn’t look at the camera, has no jokes and is giving short Ryan Kesler like answers. Not the Keith Ballard I remember, and not the Keith Ballard I want to see. Some may attribute this to the playoffs being a more stressful important time, but take a look at Kevin Bieksa, he's actually become funnier as the playoffs progress. I think a lack in confidence in himself, brought on by the lack of confidence from the coaching staff is leading to him being a different player. He is nervous, and he’s not going to think he can do everything right, this will lead to the mistakes we see with shaky passes, bad give aways and bad penalties.
It looks to be pretty clear that this will be the only season we see Ballard on the back of a Canucks jersey unless there are coaching changes. We all know which one is more likely. This makes me extremely sad as I know the potential Ballard has if given the proper opportunity and would love to see it with him still wearing a Canucks jersey next season. Part of me hopes he demands a trade at the end of the playoffs, and goes to a team where he can shine like he’s supposed to. I will always be a Canucks fan, they will always be my number 1, but I am also a huge Ballard fan and if he does go, I will take some liking to wherever he ends up. The other part of me hopes that this is all just craziness and he will be back as one of the Canucks top 4 defenceman next year, playing a strong confident game and showing the coaching staff he can play the way
Look at this Video, I want to know what happened to *this* Keith Ballard. I want that player back
*I feel the need to make it clear by forum friends, I do not mean canucks.com forums, never trust a word from there.
Finally, a bit of a disclaimer of sorts:
I know from reading Brad Kuzma and Brad Zeimer's articles it would almost contradict some things I've said here, so I may be completely wrong, or maybe you're just being completely professional about it. I didn't come up with these thoughts on my own, it came from many conversations and e-mail exchanges with your biggest supporters. We are all rooting for you, hope to see you back in a playoff game soon, and of course in a Canucks uniform next year. I really hope you're in next game, with the chance to eliminate the Predators on home ice and you can be down there celebrating with the team. Which might I add, is a game I am probably going to miss. Thank god for @canucksgame and twitter updates, I really do not want to miss the game but not much I can do.