It’s not every day that an NHL team can call upon a guy who makes $4.25 million as a seventh defenseman. That’s the life of Keith Ballard as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, though. In an injury and turnover-plagued 2010-11 season, he just cannot seem to earn head coach Alain Vigneault’s trust.
That being said, the Canucks keep suffering from losses on their blueline. Dan Hamhuis went down with what an unknown injury early in the series while Aaron Rome won’t play another game in the Stanley Cup finals thanks to his late hit on Nathan Horton.
Those two conundrums finally open the door for Ballard to make his way back into the lineup again, an opportunity he hopes to capitalize upon in Game 4 tonight. Ballard seems like he’s getting used to the roller coaster ride of getting minutes in big playoff games one night and sitting in the press box on other ones. He discussed the experience while fellow defenseman Kevin Bieksa spoke about what Ballard brings to the table.
“I think it’s a situation quite a few of us have been in, especially during this playoff run,” Ballard said of playing nearly as much as he’s been watching. “One of the things you can control is the attitude around the guys, how hard you work. You have to be able to be there to support your teammates.”
While Ballard never said he was definitely playing, Kevin Bieksa discussed what to expect with Ballard as his defensive partner Wednesday night.
“He’s a very good player. He’s helped us all year,” Bieksa said. “He’s a great skater and moves the puck well. He’s one of the best shot blockers in the League. He’s been known to throw a hip into a few guys. We just need him to play his game and not do anything special.”
Bieksa’s second-to-last sentence is one many of us will focus on: “He’s been known to throw a hip into a few guys.” His most recent epic hip check happened during the San Jose Sharks series when Ballard nailed Tyler McGinn with a brutal one that might just be the best hit of this year’s playoffs.
Will we see another big hip check from Ballard tonight or will he be the kind of error-prone player who regularly finds himself in Vigneault’s doghouse? Perhaps he’ll be both? We’ll find out tonight (on Versus at 8 p.m. ET).