Keith Ballard has had some really awful minutes for the Canucks.
That said, so had Christian Ehrhoff. So did Alberts. So did Samuelsson. So did a lot of other guys. Everyone who plays poorly on Alain Vigneault’s Canucks sees his ice time reduced. Most see it climb back up when they play better. Some don’t, though.
The Keith Ballard situation is a controversial one, but it’s clear that he’s been used much less than his salary dictates. Many believe he’s been used less than his ability dictates, as well. Keith Ballard is capable of effectively running a power play, as he did in Florida when Jay Bouwmeester was injured. Of course, he’s also capable of playing very poorly, as he did in Florida after Jay Bouwmeester became a Flame. Ballard has been similarly enigmatic in Vancouver, giving Vigneault plenty of chances to bench him.
But what’s different is, Ballard hasn’t seen much in the way of chances to redeem himself. The guy’s got to have been frustrated when he’s always in a position to lose ice time, but never in a position to get it back. If you compare the amount of leeway a guy like Christian Ehrhoff or Mason Raymond has to the amount of slack cut for Keith Ballard, it seems there’s a striking difference, having little bearing to what happens on the ice. Everyone’s ice time is based on performance, but some guys just can’t seem to get out of the doghouse, and Ballard is one. What gives?
Obviously, no one can know for sure, but there can be signs. Vigneault has put players in the doghouse before, and seems to love certain players. Long before he was a consistent offensive threat, Ryan Kesler was getting consistent power play time. Kyle Wellwood, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to earn an extra shift for much of his tenure as a Canuck. What do these guys have in common?
Being Particular About Their Role
Remember Jan Bulis? He wanted power play time, and threw a fit when he didn’t get it, reportedly wanting a trade. He lost ice time quickly after that. Mathieu Schneider was also upset about never playing the power play, so he never played at all. Kyle Wellwood didn’t like being a checker. Some guys just expect a certain role.
Alain Vigneault believes very strongly in teamwork, and also in his right as a coach to use his players as he chooses. Ryan Kesler never saw himself as a checker, but when Alain Vigneault used him in that role, he embraced it, and was rewarded with offensive opportunities. Alex Burrows has never received an assignment he wasn’t willing to try. Players who do what they’re told have seen their ice time shoot up. Mason Raymond accepted a penalty killing role he didn’t seem suited for, and as a result, has earned a lot of slack, even in times when he hasn’t performed so well. Aaron Rome is also good at doing whatever he’s told.
How does this apply to Keith Ballard? He’s stated a preference for the left side, on a team where the right side isn’t so strong. Most defensemen are more comfortable playing their natural side. By stating his preference, Ballard was limiting Vigneault’s options. Vigneault is the Canucks’ bench boss, which means he often uses the bench to show who’s boss. One way of looking at it is that his comment was innocent and shouldn’t be taken to mean he’s not a team player. The other way is to note that when Shane O’Brien, Kyle Wellwood, Mathieu Schneider or Jan Bulis had problems with their roles, they quickly had problems with their ice time, and Ballard also publicly stated how he’d like to be used — or at least, on which side he’d like to play.
Showing They Aren’t Very Serious
Ryan Kesler is very, very serious. Keslurking aside, he’s a boring interview, and doesn’t take winning or losing lightly. Some players, though, can have fun and still play hockey. Blurring the line between having fun and failing to take the game seriously, though, hasn’t helped anyone under Vigneault.
Matt Cooke was one of the first players Vigneault seemed to have real distaste for. While he was effective under Crawford, Cooke struggled to find ice time under Vigneault. Cooke seemed like the natural replacement for Bertuzzi on a line with Naslund and Morrison, having taken that role during Bert’s suspension. Instead, though, Vigneault played the likes of Bryan Smolinski. Cooke’s on-ice performance was great at times, horrible others, but like Ballard, Cooke couldn’t seem to hold on to the minutes he earned. Also, like Ballard, Cooke is a prankster. Ballard untaped Bieksa’s sticks during game day — perhaps it’s not cool to mess with a teammate’s game day routine.
Kyle Wellwood and Shane O’Brien are both former residents of Alain Vigneault’s doghouse, and both of them were known to joke around a bit during interviews. Wellwood made cracks about how Gretzky never had to work out. O’Brien’s antics were numerous, even during interviews. Ballard also can be funny with his interviews. Check out his deadpan humor in this interview. If he’s bringing the same kind of humor into the locker room, it could be that Vigneault finds the humor misplaced. Remember, Ryan Kesler is not only Vigneault’s favorite player, he’s also Daniel’s candidate for worst interview on the team.
If these gripes seem petty, that’s because they have more to do with attitude than performance on the ice. Still, that’s something Vigneault cares about. Ballard’s probably a great guy and a good team player, and it’s a real bummer that he wound up on Vigneault’s bad side, but if he’s given his coach reason to doubt how seriously he takes the game or his commitment to his team, then you can’t blame the coach for taking attitude into account. The same method that has him arguably underusing the likes of Ballard or O’Brien led to the emergence of Burrows, Kesler and Raymond.
These could be factors that Vigneault takes into account consciously, unconsciously, or not at all, but it seems the residents of his doghouse have some eerie similarities when it comes to their attitudes off the ice.
It’s Not Impossible to Leave the Dog House
Kyle Wellwood eventually embraced his defensive role and earned significant ice time. Jan Bulis eventually became an effective penalty killer. Whatever the reason for being in the dog house, it’s possible for players to leave it and redeem themselves.
It seems Gillis has chosen to keep Ballard on the team, although nothing is certain. If Ballard remains a Canuck, Gillis may expect him to step into a larger role. It’ll be important that he does so effectively. Perhaps the first step on that path would be a demonstrable attitude change, as was the case with Wellwood and Bulis before him. Maybe someone can get his dad on the phone?
Gillis Isn’t Done
Too many Canucks fans are thinking back to July 1, 2010, where Mike Gillis made a big splash in signing Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra. It was a rare instance of instant gratification for Canucks fans, and they expected the same this season.
Unfortunately, this crop of free agents was a lot more like 2009, where the Canucks let Ohlund go, then waited around for two months or so before signing Mathieu Schneider. That’s the comparison folks should be making right now.
Gillis signed Aaron Rome early and then sat tight, leaving many fans guessing, trying to slot Rome into a projected top six defensemen. That was clearly never Gillis’s plan, but the word patience appears more in Gillis’s biography than in Orson Scott Card’s Wyrms. Gillis made the trade to acquire Christian Ehrhoff on August 28th. By then, all the season previews had been written and many fans thought Gillis had failed to make anything happen.
That’s the kind of vibe Canucks fans should be getting this season. Tanev isn’t likely to be part of Gillis’s intended top six. The player’s very talented, but Gillis likes insurance. Alberts, as well, is more likely depth than a top-six guy. A move is likely to come before the season begins, but it won’t necessarily be soon. Gillis could win a staring contest with an escalator. He won’t move until he thinks it’s right.
I Don’t Know Marco Sturm
Some people are really excited to have Marco Sturm joining the Canucks. Maybe they’re right — Samuelsson wasn’t on any Canuck fans’ radar until his contract was announced. Could be the same deal here.
Still, some of Gillis’s signings have failed in the past. Mathieu Schneider is the biggest example, but there are others. Sturm was given a one-year contract because Gillis isn’t sure about this guy. Likewise, neither am I.
On one hand, Sturm has scored 25+ goals three times in his career, could play on any of the top three lines, and could provide some finish the Canucks lacked against Boston. On the other hand, he’s scored more than 50 points only once in his career, is super old, is likely past his prime, and used to play for Boston.
We can only hope he produces, but if not, he’s easy to get rid of, with a one-year contract. If nothing else, he fills the hole Christian Ehrhoff left, providing the same amount of awkwardness on Remembrance Day.Tags: Ballard, featured, Gillis, Off-Season Blues, Pretending to be a Mind Reader, Sturm, Third Man In, Wild Speculation