The greatest mystery of this season has been the continuing diminishing role of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Keith Ballard.
Things started out great as he was greatly lauded by assistant general manager Lawrence Gilman when he was acquired from the Florida Panthers at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.
"He's a very dynamic defenceman," Gilman said at the time to The Vancouver Sun. "He's a guy who plays in both ends of the rink. He can play on the power play. He's physical, and he's an incredibly competitive player. He is, in our minds, a critical component of a competitive, top-four defence."
In the first game of the regular season, Ballard logged 17:34 against the Los Angeles Kings and was tasked by Alain Vigneault to kill an overtime penalty with Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra—the three big offseason acquisitions.
Things seemingly went downhill from there, as Ballard averaged about 14 minutes a game for the duration of the regular season and is now sitting out playoff games as a healthy scratch in favour of journeymen Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome.
When questioned by the media about his decision making, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault refused to give them the answer desired.
Fans have jokingly speculated that Rome must have pictures of Vigneault naked, thus the alleged favouritism for him and the dislike for Ballard.
The decision to dress both Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome in Game 3 over Keith Ballard hints that he may be playing injured.
It was evident that Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness and head coach Alain Vigneault had no confidence in the two playing together, as they mixed and matched all the defence pairings.
It appears the two played out of necessity, not by desire or confidence.
Looking at the average ice time between Ballard, Aaron Rome and Andrew Alberts, Ballard has averaged more at 13:19 compared to Rome’s 12:24 and Alberts’ 11:21.
If you recall, Ballard suffered a mild right knee sprain on February 7 following a slew foot from Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek.
The initial prognosis had Ballard missing up to four weeks, but he returned after two weeks and six games missed.
You have to wonder if Ballard suffered a more serious injury than just a knee sprain because it did not look good on the ice.
It is possible Ballard chose to rehab the injury rather than going with surgery, which could have put him out the rest of the season and a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
I think it’s obvious enough that Keith Ballard is the better player, so he must be still feeling the effects of the injury or has sustained another injury.
What are your thoughts?