Not playing the blame game: Canucks defenceman Keith Ballard reflects on time in Vancouver
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Keith Ballard was candid, he sounded confident and he displayed class.
The Vancouver Canucks defenceman held court with reporters at Rogers Arena on Thursday, two days after the team was swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and Ballard watched it all unfold from the press box as a healthy scratch.
It’s a scenario Ballard has been through numerous times during the last three seasons.
Injuries have disrupted his playing time in Vancouver, but when healthy, he never been able to fully break out of head coach Alain Vigneault’s doghouse.
With microphones and cameras in his face, Ballard was honest and open when discussing his time in Vancouver. But not once did he lay blame with anyone, including the coach.
“I get along with him actually really well,” said the 30-year-old Ballard of Vigneault.
“I don’t always agree with his decisions but that’s life, right?”
The Canucks acquired Ballard, and forward Victor Oreskovich in a trade with the Florida Panthers in exchange for Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and a first-round pick in June of 2010.
Since coming to Vancouver, Ballard has yet to play all 82 games of a regular season.
He suffered through a concussion last year, and has previously battled knee injuries, as well as a minor foot fracture and stiff back in 2013.
And when healthy, Vigneault has never shown much trust in him on the blue line, moving him in and out of the bottom pairing on defence.
On two separate occasions this season, Ballard was moved up to play wing, primarily on the fourth line.
Through this all, Ballard has not once complained, at least not publicly. He's also proud of how he’s handled the ups and downs he’s faced in Vancouver.
But having that positive outlook hasn’t always been easy.
“I don’t think it’s hard to be a good teammate,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s hard to support the guys that are playing and be happy for them and be happy that they’re doing well. That’s not hard for me. It’s separating personal disappointment when you’re at the rink, when you’re in a team setting that…you just have to be conscious of it.”
And when these NHL post-season rolled around, Ballard sat in favour of 20-year-old rookie defenceman Frank Corrado, a right-handed shot who began the month of April still competing in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
No surprise this was high up on Ballard’s list of personal disappointments as a Canuck.
“It’s not No. 1, but it’s up there,” he said.
“I was disappointed for sure, but this has all happened so fast, right. It’s…only been two days since we’ve been done so I haven’t really had a chance to take a step back.
“When you’re in the mix, you’re just trying to be a good teammate and be there and do what you can and work hard in the skates. You try to get through it just by being positive and being excited for being here.”
Ballard has been bantered around in the media as a candidate for one of the two compliance buyouts the Canucks have.
He still has two years remaining on a six-year deal that is a $4.2 million cap hit.
With the salary cap going down to $64.3 million for next season, it seems Ballard is a likely choice to get bought out during the off-season.
General manager Mike Gillis said during his 38-minute press conference Thursday that no decision has been made about possible buyouts.
“There’s a lot of moving parts here,” said Gillis.
“Like I said…there’s very little supply out there. We have to see how things turn out before we’re going to commit to making any decision like that.”
With the future of his hockey career in the balance and after the difficulties of the past three years, it would be easy for Ballard to be jaded and sound defeated.
Not the case.
“There’s been ups and downs, yes,” he said.
“As far as my belief in myself and my belief in my abilities…it’s probably gotten better.”