The Ballad of Keith Ballard: victim of circumstance
Kind of a tough situation among Florida fans re: Keith Ballard's unceremonious trade Friday to the Vancouver Canucks (along with scrappy F Victor Oreskovich for F Steve Bernier, F Michael Grabner, and the 25th pick [F Quinton Howden]). In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm good with this deal, with a caveat.
Can't think of a single person who has ever mentioned disliking the guy, even after going all Pujols on Tomas Vokoun. That incident was, of course, an exercise in frustration, performed several hundred times throughout any given season. Minus the whole injury thing.
Ballard was the key piece of the Jacques Martin -engineered Olli Jokinen trade with Phoenix of June 2008, which included current Stanley Cup champion D Nick Boynton and a second-round pick (Jared Staal - later traded with a 2009 fourth-round pick [Justin Leonard] to FLA for an '09 second-rounder [D Colby Robak]). Still with me?
Ballard was subsequently signed to a six-year, $25.2M deal through 2015 (cap hit of $4.2M per year via CapGeek.com). Made sense at the time: GM JM was remaking the club in his own Ragtime image, and Ballard was a sensible starting point. A former 39 point scorer, he played both ends well with a physical style reminiscent of recently-retired Rob Blake. And there's this. Year One panned out rather well: 34 points (6 goals, +14) on an overachieving team who missed the postseason on a second-tier tiebreaker to Montreal.
We all know the outcome: teh Habs went nowhere in that playoff (in year number one of a seven season centennial celebration), JM bolted for those very same Canadiens, and Randy Sexton was last seen with a pen in one hand and a bloody mop in the other.
Last year Ballard sank with the rest of his troops; simply from an observer's post he never appeared comfortable. Strange, given the monster contract and all. Regardless, he was not the same player Martin had acquired. Still had the hits, kept up the physical stuff, but he was never again the guy Panthers fans fell in love with a season earlier. Almost like your hands gripped the seat/beer/remote control a little heavier when he hit the ice, hoping for the best.
Ultimately he was a "Martin" guy, and that may well have been his undoing in SoFla. Rather jarring that Tallon would deal this guy away, a dood who (publicly) espoused a rah-rah, it's-all-about-the-team persona. Jarring, but refreshing as well.
The caveat? We'll miss his presence. Not to the point that games will be lost due to his absence, but he was simply a decent guy. Ballard will do fine in LuongoLand. Another "change of scenery" situation, just unfortunate it didn't happen in Sunrise. He's a genuinely nice guy with killer instincts coming off a bad year. All the best to him.
For more on the Vancouver end, check out our sister ship Nucks Misconduct for reaction.