Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Canucks Acquire Keith Ballard, Confuse Fanbase


Ladies and gentlemen, Keith Ballard.


There is a definite possibility that you have not yet heard the news that Keith Ballard now plays for the Vancouver Canucks. It happened last Friday, just before the NHL entry draft, but I'm sure you don't care about when--you care about what went the other way. Well, let's fill you in: in exchange for the right to move Keith Ballard's couch to Yaletown as well as some dude named Victor Oreskovich, the Canucks parted ways with Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier, and their 1st round pick in the draft.

I know what you're feeling right now: confusion. You're confused. Like Fox Mulder, you want to believe. Mike Gillis has earned our love and respect these past few years by making some pretty decent moves. The Mikael Samuelsson signing? Great move. The Christian Ehrhoff trade? Stellar move. Even many of his recent draftees appear to be laden with promise. In many respects, Mike Gillis has been good to us. But there is a dark side to Mike Gillis. It was likely his inner Sith Lord that traded a third-round pick for Andrew Alberts. Heck, perhaps it was that same evil force that thought Steve Bernier would be a force to be reckoned with. And let's be frank: the debate over whether or not the Mats Sundin signing was a good thing or a hilarious fiasco is about as tight as the Florida Recount. When you really think about it, Mike Gillis's track record is not going to help you determine whether or not you like this trade. Reputation is out, so let's do it the old-fashioned way. Let's do it how Ross chose between Julie and Rachel. Let's make a list of pros and cons.

PRO
The Canucks get a top-four defenseman they desperately need.

CON
The Canucks gave up their first-round draft pick to get him, meaning they didn't have a pick for the first three rounds of the draft.

PRO
It was, by Mike Gillis's assertion, a weak draft, and the Canucks' prospect pool is strong enough that he's comfortable being the first GM in Canucks' history to wait to draft anybody until round four. He was so cool with it that he drafted Patrick McNally in the fourth-round, a high-school student who's planning to go to Harvard after his senior year next year.

CON
The Canucks gave up Michael Grabner, who showed flashes of brilliance during his time with the Canucks this year. Though he seemed destined to spend his time scoring 30 goals a season in the AHL, he finally cracked the big lineup in 2009, scoring 11 points in 20 games. At times looked dangerous, especially skating with Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler on what fans called the speed line. He also managed a pretty impressive hat trick in only his seventeenth NHL game. Now he looks like he might be a 30-goal-scorer in the NHL.

PRO
Grabner was deemed superfluous when Anton Rodin and Jordan Schroeder headed to Manitoba. Schroeder especially showed that he might be ready to surpass Grabner on the depth chart, especially considering what he did in Manitoba at the end of last season. Furthermore, the top-six appears fairly set, with Burrows and Samuelsson as the interchangeable right wings to complement the Sedins, and the speedy, tight-checking Raymond and Kesler unit. Where was Grabner supposed to go? He showed, in the playoffs last year, that he didn't have the nose for the net or the grit necessary to be a third-line guy. He was going back to Manitoba, where he would swiftly find himself battling other prospects to be the first call-up. There was a likelihood he would lose, and if he suffered any sort of setback, he'd never be worth what he was on Friday. Not only was Michael Grabner expendable, but he may have peaked in value to the Vancouver Canucks. Such is their sudden, supposed prospect depth at forward. Grabner may very well turn into a consistent top-six guy in Florida, but it wasn't going to happen here.

CON
The Canucks gave up Steve Bernier! He had the potential to be the next great power forward. As the former rights-holders of a guy named Cam Neely, Vancouver should be extra careful when trading away players with this sort of potential.

PRO
The Canucks got rid of Steve Bernier! Let's be honest. Bernier was perhaps the biggest bust Mike Gillis has made thus far. He was terrible. He missed more tap-ins than anyone, ever, and he was being paid 2 million a year to do exactly what Victor Oreskovich will do for $575,000. Don't get lost by his draft position or former pedigree: Bernier was a failure being paid for potential he had proven he couldn't fulfill. Rather than wait for this inevitability to be plain to everyone, Gillis shipped him out for much-needed capspace without losing any of the positives he would have brought: grit, size, and what I will heretofore refer to as fourthlinerness.

CON
Speaking of capspace, have you seen Keith Ballard's cap hit? He's making 4.2 million a season until 2015. This is a very long time considering we nobody seems to know exactly what he's going to bring us. In the best case scenario, he turns out like another Christian Ehrhoff, surprising everyone and making the Canucks the out-and-out winners in a foolish trade, but in the worst case scenario, he turns out like another Jay Bouwmeester and fizzles out after leaving Florida, the city that apparently ruins hockey players (see also: Jokinen, Olli). In this scenario, he sucks it up and makes life Hell for the Canucks when Christian Ehrhoff argues, during contract talks, that he's clearly worth more than Keith "Lame Duck" Mallard.

PRO
If Ballard works out, he should bring more to the table than Christian Ehrhoff. He is said to possess similar offensive abilities to Ehrhoff, along with Ehrhoff's missing element: grit. He should help the Canucks D-corps by adding some toughness and increasing the point-getting ability of one of the highest-scoring bluelines in the NHL last season. Ballard, it's said, is mean, perhaps teetering on batcrap insane. Well, maybe he isn't, but this Youtube video sure is. The long and the short of it is this: if Ballard pans out the way Gillis thinks he will, he'll be about a two/three defenseman, he'll cap what Ehrhoff asks for in negotiations, he'll give us some of the grit we were missing against the Chicago Blackhawks, he'll improve one of our greatest strengths, and he'll make us harder to play against. That's a lot to ask for, but that package of goodness is why this trade might make sense after all.

CON
This was clearly a cap dump by GM Dale Tallon, and speaking of general managers with enough credibility to assume that they won deals just because of who they are, a team that this guy assembled recently won the Stanley Cup. I heard this argument recently on a Kurtenblog podcast and I agree. From where I'm sitting, Dale Tallon dumping salary is unlike Doug Wilson dumping salary.

PRO
Actually, Dale Tallon did, like, forget to qualify a bunch of restricted free agents this one time, costing him team millions. Remember that? That's got to count for something.

CON
The Canucks now have five defenseman on the roster making over three million.

PRO
It appears Kevin Bieksa, who does some very good things, is expendable. He'd fetch, at worst, a forward skilled enough to play alongside our third-line center, be it Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, or our beloved Kyle Wellwood, back for a third tour. I've been sticking up for Kevin Bieska for two seasons now, but even I can't explain what in the Hell he's doing on this play. Juice is great, but he has a tendency to be a bonehead. I heard somewhere that Ballard is a faster, more reliable, equally mean version of Kevin Bieksa. If that's true, I'd be happy to see Bieksa go.

CON
Keith Ballard once threw a puck into his own net (video at the top), and, you've likely already seen the video of the time he accidentally Canseocoed his Tomas Vokoun in the face. Ballard might not be done with the helmet fires.

PRO
I'm a huge Canucks fan and everything is sunny until we get eliminated from the playoffs.


Final analysis: No idea, and though the radio, the newspapers, and the Internet have been abuzz with people weighing in, the truth is that they have no idea either. I don't think anybody's ever watched this guy play. Playing in Florida is a little like farting outdoors, in that it goes largely unnoticed. Now, Ballard appears to have generated a lot of interest, before the Canucks emerged as the highest bidder, so he's clearly got something teams want. If Ballard can be all the things people say he could be, he's a great acquisition. But that's a big if. It's a risky if, and nobody can give any reliable insight into its probability. That's scary, but considering the bullish, overinformed nature of Vancouver hockey punditry, it's downright bewildering. It's also frustrating for Canucks fans, who have grown used to a media spoonfeeding them every tidbit they've ever wanted. This time around it's not happening.

Anyway. I can see why you're confused.

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