Who would guess a guy who hits like this would get a hip injury?
One of the biggest disappointments of the preseason has been the play of Keith Ballard. Back in June, Mike Gillis made arguably the biggest splash of the entry draft by trading the Canucks' first round pick, along with Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner, for the hard-hitting Florida defenceman and Victor Oreskovich. Because Ballard has played his entire career in small-market cities, most of the Canucks fanbase was unfamiliar with him except from a pair of hilarious youtube videos that showed him to be a goaltender's worst nightmare and one video slightly less hilarious but more full of glorious hipchecks. Harrison admitted his own confusion and NucksMisconduct had to ask, "Just what the hell is a Keith Ballard?" in their own review of the trade.
So, for many Canucks fans, this preseason has been the first real opportunity to see who Keith Ballard is and how he plays. Canucks fans wanted to see how "their" 4.2 million dollars was being spent and the results have not been encouraging: Ballard's defensive zone coverage has been a mess and he's a -4 in the two preseason games he's played. He hasn't just been bad, he's been noticeably bad in both games. But, as Iain Macintyre pointed out this morning, it's not necessarily his fault.
It turns out, and this is the first I have heard of it, Keith Ballard had a hip surgery back in May that kept him on crutches for two months. Apparently, he "had a stress fracture repaired in his hip socket and a cyst removed from the area" that delayed his summer training. He played through the injury all of last season, enhancing his reputation as a durable player with another full 82-game season. The report back in May was that the surgery was minor and that he would be 100% by training camp. Health-wise, this appears to be the case as Ballard claims that the hip is not the issue and that he's just taking a while getting back up to game-speed. Still, it's hard to believe that missing two months of training in the summer would not be a contributing factor to his slow start.
My soccer coaches always used to say, "Don't make excuses for a poor performance." And Ballard isn't making excuses, admitting that he's "just not quite there yet." But it is a reason why his play has not been up to par. Quite frankly, it's not surprising that Ballard would have a stress fracture on his hip given the number of hipchecks he deals out on a seemingly daily basis. I'm hoping that he gets back up to speed by the start of the season and I'm doing my best to avoid judging a player after two entirely meaningless games. But it's difficult to avoid when Ballard has spent his career in Arizona and Florida, far away from Vancouver eyes. Ballard's game depends on good reads and great timing, as a proper hipcheck is nearly impossible without perfect timing.
Fortunately, the Canucks defense is deep enough to start the season that Ballard won't have to play on the top-pairing as he did on Sunday. And he should never, ever be paired with Kevin Bieksa again. Ever. Bieksa and Ballard were on the ice for both of Edmonton's powerplay goals and were spectacularly ineffective together. That was a comedy of errors that should never be repeated.