Hate is a strong word, yet one that is bandied about far too frequently. And we're all culprits of it, to varying extents. Especially if you're a teenage girl who thinks that she hates everyone, and everything, in her path.
True hatred is defined as deep and emotional dislike, which can drive one to extreme, irrational actions. You know, like not giving a player - that your general manager jumped through hoops to acquire - who can clearly contribute positively to your team, a fair shake.
I guess you could say that Keith Ballard and Alain Vigneault have a love-hate relationship. In the sense that Vigneault hates Ballard, and the thing that Ballard loves to do most is in the hands of Vigneault. On a side-note, while I was searching up examples of love-hate relationships, I came across this gem: "often used to describe the romance between a good girl and a bad boy." I'll leave it at that.
What's the solution to the current Keith Ballard conundrum? Are we simply supposed to be content with him playing out the remaining three years of his contract while logging 15 minutes a night, and serving as one of the main whipping boys? Or is there something to be done in an attempt to salvage some sort of value?
|"Let's get this guy out of here. Right. Now"|
If any team could bring Keith Ballard back from the dead, you'd have to think that it would be the Vancouver Canucks, right? It wasn't so long ago that Mike Gillis openly boasted about how he handled the Cody Hodgson situation. After the Canucks brass realized that there wasn't a future between the two sides, they made the most of the situation. They bit the bullet short-term, and did everything they could to maximize his value on the trade market in an attempt to reap the rewards in the long-term.
What would that strategy look like, were it to be implemented on Keith Ballard?
Frankly, it would all hinge on Alain Vigneault's cooperation. Gillis would essentially be selling him on the idea that they'd put Ballard in the best possible position to succeed on a nightly basis, all the way up to the trade deadline. Ideally, a team would become desperate for help on the blueline, forcing them to part ways with an asset that could help the Canucks in their upcoming playoff run. Doesn't seem all that far-fetched.
In terms of on-ice deployment, you would give Ballard the 'Alexander Edler treatment'. Let him carry around the Sedins' jockstraps, and have superficial success on the scoresheet; it will happen by osmosis whether he deserves it or not. Monitor his offensive zone start percentage, keeping it as high as possible. Give him a fair share of power play time.
It's hard to believe that he wouldn't be able to accumulate high (secondary) assist totals, and a very nice looking +/-. Even though we have come a long ways in our analysis of hockey in recent years on an analytical level, there are still a large number of people that would look at those boxcar numbers and say that he had a really good season.
On the topic of Ballard's zone starts, it's worth noting that he has been deployed by Vigneault in a defensively skewed manner. In his two seasons as a Canuck, his offensive zone start percentages have been 44.0% ('10-'11), and 44.6% ('11-'12). To put those numbers in perspective, there are two charts below which show how he stacked up against other Canuck defensemen. He also received a grand total of 12 seconds/game of power play time last season. Or as I like to call it, 12 seconds per game more than me. Not exactly a recipe for stellar offensive output.
It's not like putting this strategy into motion would be putting the Canucks in a compromising situation, either. With the departures of Salo, Rome, and Gragnani, there's currently a - far too large, for my taste - opening. Then again, I remember looking at the Canucks' defensive depth chart last August, and thinking the same thing.
Ballard is owed $4.2 million for each of the next three seasons. That may seem like a lot at first glance, but given what defensemen have been getting on the open market this summer, it's really not. I honestly still believe that the ability is still there, and it's a matter of opportunity and confidence (which conveniently enough go hand-in-hand).
|"You want us to play with.. that guy?"|
At his best, Ballard possesses a fascinating combination of physicality and offensive ability. On the offensive side of things, it's easy to forget that he averaged 30 points in the five seasons before coming to Vancouver. As for his physicality, he throws huge checks - just ask Jamie McGinn and Jordin Tootoo - and has no issue with dropping the gloves if called upon. He has an underrated amount of 'sandpaper' to his game.
You simply can't tell me that there isn't a role, somewhere in this league, for a player like that. I mean, you can try to tell me, but I won't listen. Is it possible that he has lost "it"? I guess. But it's still hard to believe that someone who's currently still in his physical prime has fallen off the map that drastically. Especially considering the fact that he had no real injury history to his name before coming to Vancouver. As I mentioned above, I think that all of this can be attributed to bad luck, poor timing, and ultimately, Alain Vigneault's ever-so-deep doghouse.
For my last act in an attempt to pump Ballard's tires, I'll leave you with this. It's no secret that he has a penchant for jumping in on the rush. Remember the goal he scored in this past season's opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins? The Vancouver Canucks sure could benefit from seeing that sort of thing a few more times next season. Both parties could.