The 2010-2011 season was one to forget for Keith Ballard.
Statistically, it was his worst season as a pro. It was also the worst season ever for Ballard in terms of injuries. He started off by missing camp due to hip surgery, and then missed games throughout the season with knee and concussion problems.
Combine this change in mindset with a body that wasn't up to speed due to injuries and missing camp, and learning a new defensive system, and it isn't a surprise that Ballard's performance suffered.
He often tried to do too much, rather than trying to do the simple, effective plays that head coach Alain Vigneault wanted.
By the playoffs, Ballard had fallen so far down the depth chart that he was a healthy scratch in the Stanley Cup Finals, despite regular starters Dan Hamhuis (injury) and Aaron Rome (suspension) becoming unavailable early in the series.
But every season is a chance at a fresh start. Canucks fans can look no further than our best defender in the playoffs last year, Kevin Bieksa.
Bieksa was almost run out of town by unruly Canucks fans just a year ago after an injury plagued season.
And yet given the support of his teammates and management, he rebounded to be the best all around defender on the President's Trophy winning team, and scored the goal that sent the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Can Ballard raise his game to a higher level like Bieksa?
I don't know, but he doesn't have to rise to become the best player on the team. The Canucks might have lost Christian Ehrhoff, but they are still a very deep team at defence.
Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Sami Salo are all extremely capable top four defenders. Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts and Chris Tanev are more than capable of eating up third pairing minutes as well.
All Ballard has to do is be a solid player.
He doesn't have to go coast to coast with the puck and try and do it all himself. He just needs to be make the solid positional plays and safe outlet passes that the coaches want, and join the rush if there is an opportunity.
If he can embrace this mindset, then he certainly has the physical tools to have a successful season.
In the Canucks opening night game against the Penguins, we saw Ballard play on the third pairing with Chris Tanev, and he seems to be more confident.
He was making good plays with the puck, supporting his partner and throwing hits. And he jumped up into the play on more than one occasion, including his goal, but he wasn't forcing it.
Can he keep this up over the season, and not fall into the coach's doghouse again?
I certainly hope so. After all, he is on pace for 82 goals this year.
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