Keith Ballard was a fun guy, but he made too much money. (photo: wikimedia commons)
Keith Ballard is gone. The defenceman, brought in during the load-up summer of 2010, never found a regular spot in the Canucks lineup under Alain Vigneault.
At $4.2 million per season, that was far from good. In a world where the cap was going down to 64.3 million dollars, Ballard’s contract really wasn’t good.
In many ways, it’s a shame. Ballard is a good guy, a good ‘in-the-room’ guy and a player who is plenty useful but who never found a way to consistently present that usefulness.
For more on Ballard, his contract and the buyout’s implications for the Canucks’ cap situation, click past the jump.
What does ‘good in the room’ mean, anyway? And how much is it worth?
As far as I can tell, it means you aren’t an asshole. We all remember those kids from our sports teams in our youth who no one really liked all that much – the kids who, for whatever reason, always acted like a jerk. They’d call out teammates when they made a bad play, they’d complain about the coach when they were sitting on the bench. Sometimes they’d be a really good player, sometimes they wouldn’t.
The truth is, most teams have these athletes. It’s what they do when they aren’t being cranky that makes the difference. There are plenty of NHLers who have a reputation for crankiness, but they are kept around because they are so darn good. To be successful in sports, you usually need to have some kind of chip on your shoulder. To be successful and remain good humoured? That’s a blessing.
That’s Keith Ballard. He could play the game, play it hard and then have a laugh afterwards.
Unfortunately, it’s the on-ice stuff that you get paid for. Ballard didn’t get on ice often enough to justify being paid like a top-four defenceman. Was that his fault? Was that Alain Vigneault’s fault? Was that Mike Gillis’ fault?
Whatever the reason – he’s gone, a victim of being clearly, at best, fifth-best on a team that already had four defencemen making $4.5 million or more. It just didn’t make sense.
Like having two well-paid goalies.
Interestingly, Ballard and his agent took slightly different approaches to assessin his time in Vancouver. Ballard was always known for his good humour – it was a regular compliment turned his way by Vancouver sports writers – and he went out on a high note, focusing on his injury troubles for his lack of on-ice success. It was his agent, Ben Hankinson, who pointed more directly at the now-departed Canucks coach.
From Brad Ziemer’s story for the Vancouver Sun:
"I think at the beginning I didn’t really know where I fit in," Ballard said. "And once I found where I fit in and where I could contribute it was different from the roles I had previously played.
"It wasn’t any one or two reasons, it was trying to get comfortable . . .I had some injuries when I first came to Vancouver and two years ago I had a pretty solid feel where I fit and was playing well and then I had a concussion and missed 30 games. It was a number of things."
Despite the frustrations, Ballard said he and his family cherish the time they spent in Vancouver.
"I am disappointed from a sense that I really enjoyed my time in Vancouver, the organization, my teammates. That’s the hard part of it. My wife and I loved living there, we loved so much about it. But this is the business side of hockey."
Hankinson said he is disappointed that Ballard won’t get a fresh start with new Vancouver coach John Tortorella.
"It’s unfortunate the timing with the coach leaving and now the buyout and he’ll never get a chance to play for the Canucks with anyone other than Alain (Vigneault)," Hankinson said. "But he’s pretty excited about getting an opportunity somewhere else."
The Canucks remain in a cap-crunch. They had to do something with their goalies. They had to do something with their defence. But even with moving out Cory Schneider and Keith Ballard, while assuming that Eddie Lack will be the back up next year, the Blue and Green only have 16 players under contact but have commited $56.8 million to those players.
That leaves just under $7.5 million left to fill seven spots on the roster.
Chris Tanev and Frank Corrado look most likely to be defenders 5 and 6 – Tanev, of course, still needs to be resigned.
Prospects like Jordan Schroeder, Brendan Gaunce, Nick Jensen and Peter Andersson would each make $1 million or less in the NHL; expect them to be given good shots at making the roster in September.
Other guys like Darren Archibald, Kellan Lain and Bill Sweatt also have a shot up front, but should be considered serious long shots at this point.
And then there’s the David Booth problem. As Cam Charron pointed out a year ago, for all the emotional frustrations Booth may give Canucks fans, he’s really a heckuva hockey player. But is he worth all that dough? Since he’s still hurt, any talk of the Canucks buying him out was moot. The buyout window closes today (July 4th). Could he be bought out in a year? Sure.
Keith Ballard will land somewhere, and he’ll be paid well there. He’ll probably get more ice time. He’ll be a good dude.