gyi0062017007-ballard

Keith Ballard back in Canucks lineup, greeted by practical jokers upon return

Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard has been out of the team’s lineup the last few games for reasons really only known to head coach Alain Vigneault. Ballard’s been healthy but he’s been kept out of the lineup in favor of the likes of Aaron Rome. If you think that Ballard’s benching hasn’t been noticed by fans in Vancouver… You’d be very wrong.

Also taking notice of Ballard’s absence are his teammates who decided to greet Ballard’s return to action in a way that makes you think it was an idea borne from bloggers themselves. Gordon McIntyre of The White Towel shares the Canucks practical joke on Ballard that proves “tough love” has a few meanings.

In honour of Keith Ballard rejoining the lineup for a game tonight, after four healthy scratches in a row, one of his teammates had a little fun at the defenceman’s expense.

On the wall in the visitors room there often is taped a sheet for players to sign up for tickets for friends or family in the road city.

Among the handful of requests for tickets to tonight’s game, someone wrote K. Ballard in the ‘donor’ column and T. Vokoun under ‘recipient.’

“I think it’s hilarious,” Ballard said after the morning skate.

If you’re missing out on the reference of what’s going on here, think back to last November when Ballard swung his stick in frustration and accidentally cracked Tomas Vokoun in the head after being burned for a goal against. Despite playing in Florida at the time, this moment was one of the lowest of Ballard’s career, at least until he scored into his own goal later in the season anyhow.

As for who the responsible party is for the tickets, Ballard’s got a short list of suspects that makes a lot of sense.

“I have a couple of names in mind,” he said.

Burrows?

“That’s one of them.”

Bieksa?

“That’s another.”

Kesler?

“And another.”

At the very least, Roberto Luongo knew better than to potentially agitate the goalie-swinging Ballard. Well played, Roberto.

Some tough decisions await the Blues

4 Comments

Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

1 Comment

The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
1 Comment

There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal