Posted for Sale: One gently-used Keith Ballard

An uncomfortable truth is that the Vancouver Canucks will probably need to shed a little over $6M worth of salary coming out of the lockout to account for a lower salary cap.

However, this does present an opportunity. While trading Roberto Luongo frees up some space, it’s still probably not enough to bridge the gap unless the NHL permits teams amnesty with the new agreement (I’m optimistic that a deal will be done in the next month).

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The pending Luongo trade has had the most digital ink spilled over it, but there’s another Canuck who makes a lot of money and whose role has diminished in Vancouver. He also still probably has some value elsewhere. That would be Keith Ballard.

Run a search for Keith Ballard across this blog and the results aren’t pretty. I called Ballard the guy second worst contract on the Vancouver Canucks, and Dimitri called the trade for Ballard the No. 1 biggest blunder of the Mike Gillis era:

I’m not quite sure what to point at as the sole reason for Ballard’s undoing with the Canucks. It’s either his inability to play the right side, or the fact that he kicked Alain Vigneault’s dog. I still think that there’s a redemption chapter to be written in the story of Keith Ballard’s career – whether it happens with the Canucks, or with some other team is the question. 

To the eyes, Ballard is still a fascinating creature. He hip checks, he has speed, he has offensive instincts. There’s a reasonable case to be made that he’s a five-tool guy who is gathering dust in the garage without anything to fix. Mike Gillis preaches specialization, but the role that Ballard specializes in is already filled in the Canucks organization.

5.38 seconds elapse on this play between when Ballard passes the puck, accelerates, and receives the puck at the other end. This is a very important play for the Vancouver Canucks, because without it, you don’t see a glimpse of Ballard’s overall potential and the things he can do:


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5.38 seconds to skate the length of the ice is very, very fast, and Ballard didn’t even get the benefit of much of a wind-up. You can see parts of a defenceman with very offensive instincts. So how come he doesn’t get to play a lot of offensive minutes? 

Look at this chart, which is Ballard’s advanced stats since the start of the Behind the Net era. He played 2008 with Phoenix, 2009 and 2010 with Florida, and the last two years with the Canucks. Pay close attention to the first two columns, which are Ballard’s time on ice, and the team’s overall goals for per 60 minutes with Ballard on the ice:

  TOI/60 (Rank) GF/60 Corsi Rel Ozone% Rel QoC
2008 16.20 (3rd/8) 2.26 (2nd/8) -8.4 (7th/8) 39.6% (2nd/7) 1.804 (1st/8)
2009 16.86 (3rd/7) 2.73 (3rd/7) 7.3 (1st/7) 48.0% (4th/7) -.057 (4th/7)
2010 16.89 (2nd/4) 2.38 (1st/4) -9.0 (4th/4) 41.8% (2nd/4) .858 (1st/4)
2011 13.70 (6th/7) 2.09 (7th/7) -13.7 (6th/7) 44.0% (2nd/7) .175 (3rd/7)
2012 13.76 (5th/7) 1.76 (6th/7) -13.4 (6th/7) 44.6% (3rd/7) -.472 (7th/7)

(via Behind the Net)

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Ballard was a steady 16-minute guy for three years, and particularly offensive. For whatever reason, with Ballard on the ice, his teams scored more goals than when he wasn’t on the ice. That has changed under Alain Vigneault’s system, with the team more prepared to dress a defenceman who prefers to stay at home and prevent chances against like Aaron Rome. With Rome out of the picture, what does that say about Ballard’s role when he comes back to the team?

The thing I find absolutely fascinating is that Ballard appears to be an offensive defenceman with poor possession metrics, hence the negative relative Corsi through four of his five seasons (usually the worst on his team) yet he never gets the benefit of added offensive zone starts. For the Canucks to be sticklers about player deployment, you’d have to wonder why he doesn’t get this benefit, where they’d start him at the offensive end of the ice 60-65% of the time and limit the amount of time he has to play on his own side of centre.

The team seems to think, “well, he’ll play less in his own zone if he doesn’t play at all” which is technically true, but this is a team that took quite a hit to showcase Cody Hodgson in January. Why not do something similar at the start of the season with Ballard and boost his value? With just 14 points in two seasons, Ballard doesn’t scream “offensive defenceman”, but he does have five 20-point seasons before that, and a couple of 30-point seasons to his name.

Somebody out there has to think this guy has value as an offensive defenceman. I think effectively used, he could turn into a more consistent Corsi threat, but his minutes would need to be protected by good forwards and offensive zone minutes. His dream role is Alex Edler’s, but Alex Edler is better at doing it than Ballard, so there just isn’t room for this guy on the team, particularly in a depth spot.

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Still, the team could get some value there. The trade idea I’ve floated is to Toronto for Matthew Lombardi, a move that would effectively shed both salary and contract years for the Canucks, give Toronto another defenceman to work with, and another centreman for the Canucks. He might also fit well in Carolina’s “wait, we have to play defence, too?” system or with Nashville, who I think like the idea of bringing aboard any player who will listen.

I think the Canucks have options here, I think that Ballard has value as an offensive defenceman, but he just doesn’t work in the Canucks’ system.

  • I’d argue that at $4.2 he isn’t a complete albatross.

    For a team looking to add a top four d-man, they could probably get him for 50 cents on the dollar. He’s only two years removed from being a legit top pairing guy in Florida. Just hasn’t fit into Vancouver’s structured system.

    Great skater, can’t make a first pass. It is almost a requirement for a Canucks top four defenseman to be able to make a good first pass.

    • Mantastic

      50 cents on the dollar would mean a 1st round pick for ballard? because grabner was also a 1st rounder and that would be asking way too much for ballard. and a top pairing guy for florida, 3 years ago really isn’t saying much

  • A top pairing defenseman on any team says a lot. Florida was a bad team, but this is still the NHL.

    50 cents on the dollar implies below his value. So no, not a 1st round pick. The previous deal has zero relevance on moving him now. His value is much lower, of course.

  • Funny that you write this article, cause I was thinking the other day they need to showcase Ballard.

    As you mentioned, he’s just not a fit in Vans system. And by 2013-14, they’re gonna need to shed some cap space. Ballard is the obvious choice.

    I’m a bit surprised they didn’t showcase him to some extent last season. There’s a good chance they knew the cap would go down. Then again, they don’t need to shed cap space till next summer, so there’s still time.

    I think there are so many teams in need of quality defenseman, and none available via FA. Now might be the best time to sell. I’d add St. Louis, Detroit, Philly and Pittsburg to the list of teams looking. St. Louis wanted Garrison (lefty), they lost Coliacovo and haven’t replaced him. All the other teams I mentioned were rumored to be looking for a d-man. Looking around the league, what team has a spare quality defenseman to part with? I can’t think of any other than Vancouver, perhaps Toronto.

    Should be interesting.

    • Mantastic

      Vancouver does not have depth in D, they just need to get rid of Ballard. Hard to showcase Ballard, when you can’t shelter his and Edler’s minutes at the same time and that they can’t play together.

      if the season started now, with Garrison and Edler’s injuries (mainly Edler’s) you can “showcase” Ballard but Van’s D would look like this; Bieska/Hammer, Tanev/Ballard and Alberts/KCon, not an impressive starting D. hard to showcase when they will be fighting to tread water