It's March. There are 17 games and 36 days left in the Canucks' regular season.
Two of the Canucks' top rear guards, Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa, are out with long-term injuries.
Who would have guessed Keith Ballard would still be struggling to get minutes on this team?
Many had expected Ballard to continue to get increased responsibilities and more playing time as he continued to get his legs under him after offseason hip surgery.
The ice time never materialized and it would have been no shame to finish fifth in ice time all season behind Christian Ehrhoff, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler.
But he's fifth to Aaron Rome right now, even with Edler and Bieksa out with injury.
On Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, Ballard logged 14:21 in even-strength ice time while Rome logged 16:49—over two extra minutes.
Ballard logged an additional two minutes on the penalty kill, bringing his total minutes to 16:21, while Rome logged an extra 48 seconds on the penalty kill for a total of 17:37.
On Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, similarly, Rome received more even-strength time than Ballard.
Rome logged 17:43, while Ballard only received a minuscule 13:37. The total ice-time was 16:38 for Ballard and 19:43 for Rome.
How does this happen? Without penalty killing time, Ballard's ice time doesn't even come close to what Rome gets. He's supposed to be on the second defense pairing with Sami Salo.
No knock on Aaron Rome, he's a great depth defenseman, but what is a guy with one career NHL goal doing on the ice in the last minute against the Blue Jackets and in overtime?
When Ballard returned from injury along with Hamhuis on Feb. 22, he was slotted in on the first pairing with Christian Ehrhoff, then dropped down to the second pairing against the Boston Bruins two games later.
He's now been dropped to the third pairing with Chris Tanev. He practiced there today, and it is where he is expected to play tomorrow afternoon against the Los Angeles Kings.
Dropping Ballard down to play with Sami Salo? Makes sense. These two are probably going to be the third pairing when Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa return from injury. Might as well get them acquainted to playing with each other.
Ballard playing with Chris Tanev? A plot by the coaching staff to continue to increase Aaron Rome's ice time? We'll see tomorrow.