New players always garner the most attention from the fans and Keith Ballard is no exception. Coming to a Canucks team that’s had injury problems at the blue line, the 27-year old defenseman, who is the only Canucks defenseman to play in all 82 games last season, was expected to bring stability and durability, and make an immediate impact.
Oh, the irony.
It was surprising to see Ballard struggle a bit in the preseason. But as it turned out, he had hip surgery in May, originally unbeknownst to everyone – fans and media alike – in Canucks Nation. For two weeks, he was restricted to crutches and was unable to put any weight on his hip. By the training camp rolled around, Alain Vigneault admitted that Ballard was about three weeks behind in getting his timing and conditioning back. If we were a little harsh on Kevin Bieksa for a poor preseason, we should probably give Ballard a bit of slack. Going to a new city and playing with a new defense partner is hard enough to adjust to; adjusting to a new hip at the same time doesn’t make it any easier.
The good news is, Ballard will get some time at the start of the season to work out the kinks. He’ll play with Andrew Alberts on the third-pairing at least until he gets his game in gear. Once he does that, I’m sure he’ll prove to be a huge asset to the Canucks. For the first time in his career, he’ll be playing on a team expected to contend for the Stanley Cup and I’m sure he’s fired up to start the season. He’ll be a big part of the success of the blue line, and ultimately, the team.
That is, when he gets used to playing with that new hip.