Written by: Larry “The Nucks IceMan” Johnson
So this has become a very interesting topic for the Vancouver media and fans alike. Mike Gillis went out during the off-season and targeted the need for some physical, durable, talented defenseman, that could improve the so called core.
Gillis’ traded for Keith Ballard and his six year $25.2 million contract, along with Victor Oreskovich and sent to Florida Panthers, Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and the Canucks first round draft pick (25th overall).
Some people thought that was too high of a price to pay for Ballard but considered the upside that he would bring in light of losing Willie Mitchell to Los Angeles and Sami Salo to injury.
A very important health issue which was not divulged to the media or public until many weeks later, was that Ballard had undergone hip surgery in May of 2010 and was still rehabbing it.
Even the modest hockey fan would know that the hips are an important factor in skating, so why exactly was this kept a secret? You have to think that the Canucks had done their due diligence on Ballard, and were satisfied with the medical reports they had received back about him.
Otherwise when this hip injury surfaced, the Canucks would have looked to the NHL to void the deal.
No one thought much about it come training camp, as Ballard participated in the drills and moved along into the pre-season games. I watched him closely and couldn’t see anything glaringly wrong with him. Just another new player trying to learn his playing partners tendencies on defense.
He tested that hip more than a few times, as he is one of a declining breed that uses a hip check in his defensive repertoire. Ballard didn’t play more than four regular season games when he suffered a concussion, which put him out of action for a couple of weeks. That was back on October 15th.
Due the injury of Dan Hamhuis at about the same time as Ballard, the Canucks depth chart on the back end was challenged, with the number seven (Aaron Rome) and eight men (Ryan Parent) being inserted into the line-up. Rome has played a steady, mostly mistake free, simply game, which has proven to be beneficial to the defense.
Parent on the other hand has not fared as well, and also was knocked out of the line-up with a groin injury on November 1st, the same day that Ballard returned to the line-up. Ballard was inserted into the line-up until a couple of games ago, which coincided with the return of Hamhuis.
When Coach Vigneault slotted Hamhuis back in, one of the current players was going to have to sit out and Ballard was chosen. Of course this raised a red flag as everyone wanted to know how that could be.
Coach Vigneault went on to state that he felt the D-men who had been playing, were all performing better than Ballard and that is why he was sat out.
What we don’t know or hasn’t been brought out publically, is if Ballard’s supposedly sub-par performance is the result of his hip surgery, the effects of his concussion or both. These days, with the number of concussions having taken place in the NHL, and the protocol that is involved before a player is allowed to return, you would think that this cannot be affecting Ballard’s game.
Coach Vigneault has been very consistent with rewarding players who have maintained a high level of play with ice time. In other words, if you’re playing smart as well as good, you stay in the line-up.
But my take on this would be that you sure can’t improve your game sitting in the press box. Ballard was brought in to challenge for a top four position on defense, not seventh or eighth, otherwise they would not taken on a contract of that nature.
There are still a number of UFA’s on the market that could make up the number seven through nine spot on the depth chart, for a quarter of his $4.2 million per season. Just go check out capgeek.com.
Ballard has remained the loyal teammate saying all the right things in the media but I wonder what this does to his relationship with the Coach? Will this be one of those things that start’s to eat away inside the locker room, if Ballard remains out much longer?
Looking at this from an optimistic view, this speaks volumes about the depth of the Canucks defense, if Ballard cannot make it back in at this time. And on the other hand, with the number of injuries that have taken place in the NHL to the defenses, Ballard will not be out of the line-up for very long.
Most teams would like to have this type of Canucks problem on defense!
As always, you can also find me at @twitter.com/nucksiceman.com, @slapshot.com, and @communities.canada.com/VANCOUVERSUN/blogs/fanattic/default.aspx
Filed under: Opinion