|New Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) |
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
KANATA – Jacques Martin called it a “difficult” decision. But just before 7:30 here Friday night, the Panthers GM sent Olli Jokinen packing to Phoenix in exchange for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton and a second-round pick here Saturday at the NHL Entry Draft.
Jokinen, the team’s all-time leading scorer who completed his seventh season with the Panthers, couldn’t lead the team to the playoffs during his tenure and slumped badly in the second half of last season, scoring only five goals in the last 22 games and ending the season with a minus 19.
Martin believes Ballard, 25, a former first-round pick from Minnesota, and Boynton, 29, another first-round pick and a native of Ontario, will give the Panthers a solid blue line. Both players are top four defensemen – Ballard a No. 2 – and that will help a team that has led the league in shots against.
“I really felt we needed to improve our defense,” Martin said. “When you look at teams that are successful, you need defensemen who are mobile, defensemen that can move the puck. I feel Keith Ballard is a No. 2 defenseman. He’s a tough player to play against, a real shutdown defenseman who can move the puck. He has good speed, a lot of grittiness, and he’s physical. Nick Boynton is another who can play on our top four. He’s a first-round pick, and (head coach) Peter (DeBoer) coached him in the World Championships.
“We’ve changed the chemistry. When you look at the top four defensemen now, we’ll be a lot better. And when you have better defense, you don’t spend as much time in your own zone. Look at the teams in the Stanley Cup this year? That’s a great example of how defense is important.”
Darren Pang, an analyst for the Coyotes and Versus, said the Panthers got two top defensemen.
“Keith Ballard is a very competitive kid; incredibly passionate,” said Pang of Ballard, the 11th overall pick at the 2002 Entry Draft by Buffalo. “He skates like every shift is his last shift. He played with Derek Morris last year and they were the main shutdown guys. Keith came out of college (University of Minnesota) as an offensive defenseman. I think if you give him the green light, he can go.
“Boynton is defensive minded. He keeps the game simple, but you could have Ballard and Boynton as you’re two shutdown guys.”
Wayne Gretzky, head coach of the Coyotes said of the trade: “We gave up two very good hockey players and got a tremendous asset back.”
Ballard said he was surprised about the trade but was looking forward to heading to Florida.
“I think it’s a good deal for both teams,” he said via phone. “You look up front (with the Panthers), and they have a lot of good young players. And they have (Jay) Bouwmeester on the blue line. He’s a real big defenseman, one of the better skaters in the league. He’s the real deal.”
|New Panthers defenseman Nick Boynton (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) |
Martin said he believes a stronger defense means the Panthers will spend less time in their own zone and make Panther forwards stronger. He said he also expects young players to step up.
“I said after the season we felt we had some kids in (Shawn) Matthias and (Michael) Frolik could be ready to play. Look at teams like Chicago and Phoenix, the way those kids there have stepped in. There’s no doubt in my mind people like (Nathan) Horton, people like (Stephen) Weiss, (Rostislav) Olesz and (David) Booth…we’re going to look for more production, as well as other people.
“But I’m really happy with the people we have and the people we have on the blue line. We’ve made some great progress. I think (Ballard and Boynton) will help us win more games than in the past.”
When asked how the trade might be received in South Florida, Martin said; “I think that’s why as hockey people you have to make tough decisions.”
“The bottom line is we haven’t been in the playoffs for so many years. I indicated last year we would improve our goaltending. I think there’s been no regrets there (with Tomas Vokoun).”
When asked if trading Jokinen was personal, Martin said; “It’s not personal at all. I enjoyed working with Olli. He’s an excellent player. I looked at improving our hockey club. I don’t look at things from a personal standpoint. At the same time, I wouldn’t have made the trade if I didn’t feel it was good for the organization.”
Martin said he spoke with several teams over the past month regarding Jokinen. “But this (trade) was the best as far as meeting our needs and what was best for the organization to move forward.”
The Panthers, who did not have a first-round draft pick, will have the first selection in today’s second round (31st overall) and the 49th selection as a result of the trade completed Friday evening.