VANCOUVER -- Defenseman Keith Ballard wasn’t happy watching the Vancouver Canucks' past two games from the press box as a healthy scratch, something that has happened more often than he’d like over his three seasons with the team.
Ballard does not, however, want to be traded out of Vancouver, speculation that began when his agent was quoted as planning to talk to the team. The beleaguered blueliner still prefers fighting for ice time on a good team to playing a lot more on a bad one, something he knows all too well from spending his first five NHL seasons out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.
“First five years, I played 25 minutes, up by one, down by one, PP, PK, over the boards every other shift,” Ballard said. “We finished 26th, 27th, 29th, and whatever in the League, and it’s not fun. It’s fun playing a lot. It’s fun getting those opportunities. It’s fun taking the one-timer on the 5-on-3, but it [stinks] losing. Regardless of what happens here, or how long I’m here, I like it here because of that fact (it’s a winning team). It’s a good group.”
Ballard has found himself watching that group from the sidelines more than he’d like since being acquired by the Canucks at the 2010 NHL Draft as part of a package that included Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and a first-round pick the Panthers used to select Quinton Howden.
Despite being under contract for $4.2 million a season this year and two more, Ballard was in the press box for the past two games after consecutive minus-2 outings, but will get back into the lineup Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks.
“It shouldn't have been a surprise to him that he got sat out,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “His performance had slipped. He had been told three out of his last four games weren’t what we wanted and we decided to make a change for the benefit of the team. Now he’s getting another opportunity.”
Ballard pledged to make the most of it, admitting it has been trying mentally to deal with being in and out of the lineup. He wouldn’t bite on questions about other defensemen getting more rope to play their way out of funks.
“I don’t think the last three years are exactly how I envisioned it, but it’s up to me to make the best of whatever opportunity I have,” Ballard said. “I was playing really solid, but sometimes it is game-to-game, and whether or not I like that it doesn’t matter. The differences, if I’ve had any, or the questions I’ve had, it’s not for you guys anyways. Those are personal things. … I don’t think I need extra motivation. I have plenty of internal motivation.”
Ballard admitted his play slipped two games prior to being scratched, which coincides with the defense pairings being shaken up after an injury to Kevin Bieksa. Ballard, who prefers to play the left side, bounced back and forth from the left to the right while playing with different partners.
Against the Sharks, Ballard will be back on the left side with Cam Barker, who should know a thing or two about struggling to meet expectations.
Drafted third behind Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in 2004, Barker signed with the Canucks in training camp and watched the first 20 games of the season as a healthy scratch until playing Sunday.
Battling for playing time is part of being a third-pairing defenseman, whether you’re on a big contract like Ballard or a top pick like Barker.
“The situation I am in, the role I am in, that’s the way it goes,” Ballard said. “It’s frustrating but there’s nothing I can do about it except play well when I have the opportunity, so that’s where my focus is tonight.”