News broke this morning that Dan Hamhuis' return would mean the banishment of Keith Ballard, not Aaron Rome, to the press box. Quick stop for credit: Iain MacIntyre suggested this yesterday. I'll admit that I thought he was a little bit wacky, but he was right. As of right now, Keith Ballard is lower on the depth chart than Aaron Rome.
This won't last. If I were compiling a list of Canuck players that could play better, Keith Ballard would be on top of it. If I were compiling a list of Canucks that couldn't possibly play any better, Aaron Rome would top it.
Aaron Rome is a defenseman with limited skills. The words used to describe him are typically only used on 6th and 7th defensemen: dependable, steady, reliable. You may have noticed that these words are all synonyms for one another, and that's because Rome's is a one-dimensional game. If he gives you a little more, as he has been lately, that's the sort of bonus play you have no choice but to encourage.
The coaching staff has been doing that: AV has been spotting Rome just over 17 minutes a night as well as icetime on the 2nd unit power play. While I'm about as comfortable with Rome quarterbacking the PP as I was with Byron Ritchie doing it, I'm forced to admit that Rome's been getting it done. He has points in his last 2 games, each an assist coming with the man advantage.
In truth, while the Keith Ballard benching is deserved, it says less about him than it does about Aaron Rome, for whom a benching would be undeserved. Rick Bowness implied something similar. From the MacIntyre article:
“This is the best hockey Aaron Rome has played for us,” associate coach Rick Bowness, who runs the Canucks defence, said. “Look at his minutes. He's on the second power-play unit and we've got the No. 1-ranked power play in the league. He has earned that ice time. He's doing what we need him to do.”
Exactly. This is about Aaron Rome making the most of his opportunities, and you have to reward guys for that or you run the risk of your motivational tactics falling on deaf ears. If you say money won't determine playing time--that you play the players that give you a chance to win every night, as Vigneault always says--and Ballard gets in over Rome tonight, you're full of crap and everyone will know. Rome has been better. So he plays.
Still, it won't be this way forever. If you hear it from Ballard, he's been bad. "I have to be more calm with the puck," he said. "I've been a little scrambly at times." And he certainly looked bad the other night when he blew a tire and let Niklas Kronwall score a 2nd period go-ahead goal. But, in truth, he hasn't been that bad. Henrik Sedin also blew a tire that game; it only resulted in a scoring chance. And even Vigneault has admitted he's not as unhappy with Ballard's play as Ballard is. From Ben Kuzma:
Vigneault doesn't believe Ballard is struggling as much as the blueliner believes and he cited a new environment, offseason hip surgery and a concussion as factors to a slow start for Ballard.
Context! Precious context! Let us remember, and not forget, that Ballard's still--understandably--a work in progress. He arrived to the team fresh off a hip surgery, and just when he was starting to get his legs under him, he was dropped by a concussion, the symptoms of which lingered for an alarmingly long time. Recall that you can't work out when you have a concussion. Now we're talking about a guy that desperately needs to be working out because he's on the home stretch of a hip rehabilitation, and he's not even allowed to ride the bike. You don't think that slows down his progress a little?
Without question, it does. Look no further than the fact he's being outplayed by Aaron Rome.
So Keith Ballard sits, and I'm okay with that. He might need a little time off anyway to catch up on his workout regimen. Meanwhile, the Canucks are riding a six-game win streak, and they'd like to keep it up. "We want to win," Vigneault said. "We'll play our best lineup." And that's the best thing about all this. We're winning. It's tough to complain when we're winning. And what a luxury to know that, if the good ship Canuck stalls, you've got a guy like Ballard ready to step into the lineup, motivated by the fear of becoming the Western Conference's version of Wade Redden if he doesn't step up his game?