Tomas Kaberle and Keith Ballard have a lot in common. Both players spent the post-lockout years playing for non-playoff teams. Both have represented their countries in International play. Both were traded to their current teams for a package including a top prospect and a first round pick. Both have failed to meet expectations with their new teams. And both are in the Stanley Cup Final.
Of course, one of the main differences between the two is that Kaberle will definitely play at least one game against the Canucks, while Ballard might watch all of the games from the press box with the Black Aces. Since no one has come out on record saying he hasn’t wagered away his spot on the Stanley Cup in a rigged game of poker with Eddie Lack, we’re forced to assume he has.
So which of the two has been more disappointing? Who has come shortest of meeting expectations?
With the arrival of Ballard, the Canucks were promised glorious hipchecks, consistent offensive production, and the ability to eat up big minutes. 1 out of 3 ain’t bad. Ballard has certainly delivered on the hipcheck front; he and Dan Hamhuis have made going to the outside on the Canucks’ defense a dangerous proposition. The two have also passed along the propensity for hipchecking to the rest of the defensive corps. Though not as skilfully delivered, it is not uncommon to see Bieksa, Rome, and Edler also slamming their hips into unsuspecting opponents. Despite playing only 9 games thus far in the playoffs, Ballard has ensured his place on the highlight reel with two enormous hipchecks: his destruction of Tootoo somehow led to a clipping penalty, but his picture-perfect pasting of Jamie McGinn led only to praise and polygamy.
With the re-emergence of Kevin Bieksa, the steadiness of Dan Hamhuis, and the offensive prowess of Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff, Ballard has been hard-pressed to find ice-time. Unfortunately, the Canucks’ incredible depth on defense has relegated Ballard to minimal minutes. The reduced role led to the lowest point totals of his career. Once Sami Salo returned from injury and Aaron Rome banked the puck off the boards into Vigneault’s good books, Ballard found himself frequently sitting in the press box.
Down in Beantown, the Bruins were promised an improvement to their powerplay, the ability to transition well out of the defensive zone, and enough offensive production to overcome defensive deficiencies. The results: the Bruins have a brutal powerplay, Kaberle has made some costly turnovers, and he provided little in the way of regular season scoring, but has at least provided 8 points in his 18 playoff games.
The Canucks haven’t needed Ballard much in the playoffs, choosing to play the yawn-inducingly safe Aaron Rome in his place. When he has slotted into the line-up, he’s only averaged about 14 minutes per game on the bottom pairing with minimal time on special teams. But while Kaberle has played in every single game for the Bruins, Claude Julien exhibits no more trust in Kaberle than Vigneault exhibits in Ballard. Kaberle has seen his icetime take a nosedive in the playoffs, averaging only 16:31 in total ice time, with over 3-and-a-half minutes of that on the powerplay. At even-strength, Kaberle is actually averaging less ice time than Ballard. Certainly, the Bruins were expecting more out of their prize trade deadline acquisition.
In order to acquire Ballard, the Canucks sent Florida their 1st round pick, 25th overall, in the 2010 draft, Michael Grabner, and Steve Bernier, with Victor Oreskovich tossed in on the other side. Kaberle cost the Bruins their 1st round pick, 29th or 30th overall, in the 2011 draft, Joe Colborne, and a conditional 2nd round pick in 2012, the conditions of which have indeed been met, now that the Bruins have made the Stanley Cup Final.
The gross cost for Ballard is a bit greater, with Grabner making big contributions for the Islanders this season and landing a Calder Trophy nomination, while Joe Colborne, a former first round pick himself, is unproven at the professional level. The difference, of course, is that the Canucks got a full season of Ballard and still have him under contract for 4 more years. Whether that’s a positive or negative may depend on your view of Ballard’s potential future with the Canucks. If the Canucks are only able to re-sign one of Ehrhoff and Bieksa and Salo retires, then Ballard’s value greatly increases, as he likely slots back into the top-four next season. Then again, if the reason the Canucks can only sign one of Ehrhoff and Bieksa is because of Ballard’s $4.5 million contract, then things swing back around to the negative side of the ledger.
Kaberle, on the other hand, will be an unrestricted free agent and may prove to be nothing more than a high-cost rental for the Bruins. Have Kaberle’s contributions been worth the cost of two first-round draft picks and one second-round pick? Will the Bruins even want to re-sign Kaberle?
While neither Ballard nor Kaberle have performed as well as hoped for their respective teams, the fact is that the Bruins need Kaberle to be better more than the Canucks need Ballard. Unless the entire series is played at even-strength, the Bruins’ putrid powerplay will be a factor, and Kaberle was acquired to improve it. While it’s unfair to place the blame solely on one player — the powerplay was terrible before his arrival, after all — the Bruins need more from the man with 266 career powerplay points.
The Canucks, however, have all the defensemen they need, with more waiting in the wings. And, with 4 more seasons to prove his worth, there is no rush for Ballard to make a big contribution. He has been more than adequate when called upon and showed value as a good teammate throughout. Unlike previous acquisitions, Ballard has taken his lumps without complaint and shows all the hallmarks of being an excellent teammate, so his cycle in and out of the lineup hasn’t caused any distractions to the team.
While I may need to re-visit this in two weeks time, it seems clear to me that Kaberle has been a far more disappointing acquisition than Ballard.
Tags: Ballard, Bruins, Canucks, featured, Kaberle, Keith Ballard, playoffs, Tomas Kaberle