VANCOUVER – A roller-coaster season ended with a thud for Vancouver Canucks defenceman Keith Ballard.
Ballard did more watching than playing during Vancouver’s run to the Stanley Cup final. Even with defenceman Dan Hamhuis sidelined by injury and Alex Edler playing with two broken fingers, coach Alain Vigneault still elected to sit Ballard and his US$4.2-million salary.
“I have said it all year, there have been some personal ups and downs,” Ballard said in a recent interview. “I’m not happy overall with my performance.”
Instead of pouting, or asking for a trade, Ballard is confident he can be more productive next season.
“The bottom line is, there was times when I needed to play better,” he said.
“I had plenty of opportunities to play well. I think if I would have played more consistently well, I don’t think I would have had an issue.”
Ballard appeared in just 10 of Vancouver’s 25 playoff games and dressed for one game in the final against the Boston Bruins, a 4-0 loss in Game 4.
Ballard finished the playoffs with no points and was a minus-3 while averaging about 14 minutes of ice time.
Vigneault said his decision not to dress Ballard was based on performance, not personality.
“I felt other guys were playing better than he was, it’s that simple,” said Vigneault.
“It was a learning experience for him. I see a lot of upside and he’ll come back next year knowing what to expect.”
This was Ballard’s sixth season in the NHL but his first playoff experience. He has four years remaining on his contract with Vancouver.
The Canucks have four defencemen eligible to become unrestricted free agents July 1. Kevin Bieksa (who earned US$3.75 million last season); Christian Ehrhoff (US$3.1 million); Sami Salo (US$3.5 million) and Andrew Alberts (US$1.5 million) are all looking for new deals.
Bieksa, who emerged as one of the team leaders this season, and Salo, who battled back from a career-threatening Achilles tendon tear, have both indicated they are willing to stay in Vancouver for less money than they could earn somewhere else.
“I know about money,” said Bieksa, who turned 30 on Thursday. “I understand its value and everything, but it’s not my main priority.”
Salo, who turns 37 in September, also wants to stay with Vancouver.
“I like playing here so I don’t think the money is going to be an issue at the end,” he said.
Ehrhoff, who came to Vancouver in a August 2009 trade from San Jose, may be more difficult to re-sign. His 14 goals and 50 points left him tied for seventh among NHL defencemen last season and he could command US$5 million on the open market.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis believes he can work deals that will keep both Bieksa and Ehrhoff happy.
The Canucks could also benefit with the salary cap expected to increase to $63 million from $59.4 million.
Hamhuis, who will need surgery to determine the extent of the abdominal injury he suffered in Game 1 of the final, was the team’s top-paid defenceman in 2010-11 at $4.5 million.
Ballard, obtained in a trade from Florida last June, is the second highest paid.
The season started badly for Ballard. His summer training was hampered by off-season hip surgery. He was a healthy scratch for four times in November and missed games due to a concussion in October and a knee injury in February.
“It was frustrating,” said Ballard. “I haven’t had to deal with that before. I started to feel good, more comfortable with my game, then I’m out a couple of more weeks.”
In 65 regular season games, the 26-year-old native from Baudette, Min., had two goals, seven points, and led the team with 111 blocked shots.
Given a full summer to train, Ballard is already looking forward to starting next season. He denies there is any conflict between himself and Vigneault.
“I amcompletely confident in my abilities,” Ballard said. “I have three months to train and come in and be ready for the season to start.
“If I come in and play well and play to my capabilities, I don’t think there is any problem.”