Keith Ballard

Much-maligned Ballard isn’t quite so maligned these days


Prior to the season, Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard was called an “obvious buyout candidate” in the pages of the Vancouver Sun.

Today, in that same paper, he’s “finally the player he needs to be for the Canucks.”

Amazing how quickly things change in that city.

Granted, the player Ballard “needs to be” isn’t exactly a great player. According to the Sun, it’s merely a “steady National Hockey League defenseman.”

Since the trade that brought him to Vancouver on June 25, 2010, for a package that included Michael Grabner and a first-round pick that turned into Quinton Howden, the word “steady” would definitely not be used to describe Ballard’s performance.

“Part of the problem is I just was never really sure what I was supposed to do,” he said Wednesday.

“I spent so much time last year on the mental side of things, working with a sports psychologist, because until I came here I never had any adversity in hockey. Going back to five years old, I just went out and played and didn’t worry about anything.”

Before coming to the Canucks, Ballard had played for two NHL teams, Florida and Phoenix. Suffice to say it was easier to fly under the radar in those markets than in Vancouver.

Ballard is still overpaid as a third-pairing defenseman with no points in nine games — the 30-year-old is signed through 2014-15 with a cap hit of $4.2 million.

But his improved play hasn’t gone unrecognized by the coaching staff.

“What he has stopped doing is chasing the game all over the ice,” Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness said. “So now the game comes to him and he’s in control.”

Kassian suspended without pay, placed in Stage 2 of Substance Abuse Program

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks
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Zack Kassian may have avoided major injuries stemming from his Sunday car accident, but it likely sent the signal that he may need help.

The response: he was placed in Stage Two of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH) of the NHL and NHLPA on Monday.

According to the league’s release, Kassian “will be suspended without pay until cleared for on-ice competition by the program administrators.”

Speaking of being suspended without pay, here’s a key detail:

The 24-year-old ended up with a broken nose and broken foot from that accident. The 2015-16 season was set to be his first campaign in the Montreal Canadiens organization after a tumultuous time with the Vancouver Canucks.

Kassian spoke of becoming more mature heading to Montreal, but the Canadiens were critical of his actions, wondering how many wake-up calls someone can get.

In case you’re wondering about the difference between stage one and two:

Add Lecavalier to list of expensive Flyers healthy scratches

Vincent Lecavalier

Are the Philadelphia Flyers aiming for some sort of record when it comes to expensive (potential) healthy scratches?

While lineups are obviously subject to change, notes that Vincent Lecavalier appears to be among a rather rich group of Flyers who are expected to sit during their season-opener.

Also likely to be in street clothes: Sam Gagner and Luke Schenn.

That’s $11.3 million in cap space rotting on the bench.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Lecavalier said. “I’ll practice hard and be ready when they call me up.”

The quotes from Lecavalier, Gagner and Schenn only get sadder from there, a reminder that there are human beings attached to these numbers – whether you focus on disappointing stats or bloated salaries.

Flyers fans with the urge to reach for an Alka-Setzler can at least take some comfort in knowing that the team will see $6.8 million in savings after this season, as both Gagner and Schenn are on expiring deals.

It could be a long season, though, and this Lecavalier headache may not truly end until his contract expires following the 2017-18 campaign.