VANCOUVER – The news on defenceman Keith Ballard isn’t as bad as the Vancouver Canucks expected.
An MRI has shown Ballard has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee and could miss three to four weeks. The original fear was Ballard had suffered severe damage to the knee when he injured it in Monday’s 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.
“I was told the MRI showed a mild strain,” coach Alain Vigneault said prior to Vancouver’s NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday. “We’re looking at around four weeks.
“Considering what we saw when you look at the replay it could have been a lot worse.”
Ballard was seen at Rogers Arena walking without the aid of crutches.
The 28-year-old from Baudette, Minn., twisted his right leg when he fell awkwardly after being pulled down from behind by Ottawa winger Milan Michalek in the first three minutes of Monday’s game. He lay writhing in pain holding his leg, then headed straight for the Vancouver dressing room and did not return.
Ballard joins a list of injured Canuck defenceman.
Alex Edler, considered Vancouver’s top all-around defenceman, isn’t expected to return until the playoffs after undergoing back surgery last week. Rookie Lee Sweatt, called up from the AHL Manitoba Moose, broke his foot in practice Saturday and is out six to eight weeks.
The Canucks are expected to have Sami Salo back in the lineup this weekend. The Finnish defenceman, who has missed the entire season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, has finished a minor-league conditioning stint with Manitoba and is returning to Vancouver.
The Canucks still have depth on the blue-line with Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Aaron Rome and Andrew Alberts.
“You’re not going to replace a guy like Keith,” said Rome, who recently got back in the lineup after missing eight games with a knee injury. “He skates so well and plays the game with lots of poise.
“We have lots of guys that can step in and want to try and relish the opportunity they have here.”
One of the pleasant surprises for the Canucks has been the play of Chris Tanev. The 21-year-old from Toronto has averaged over 13 minutes of ice time and is a plus one in the eight games he’s played since being called up from the Moose.
“He’s played really well for us,” said Vigneault. “He’s very dependable and has been making the high-percentage plays.
“He goes in there knowing he’s going to have to take a hit to make the play. He doesn’t shy away from that. Everything we have seen from this young man is telling us that with the right work and the right attitude, he has a chance to play on a regular basis sometime down the road.”
The six-foot-two, 200-pound Tanev was not drafted. He was playing college hockey for the Rochester Institute of Technology when signed as a free agent by Vancouver in May.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Tanev said about his fairy tale chance to play in the NHL. “It’s something I have looked forward to my whole life.
“I’m just going to have fun with it and enjoy it while it lasts.”
Tanev has not hurt the Canucks when he’s on the ice. He always seems to be in the right position and doesn’t play beyond his limits.
“I just try to make the easy plays and get all the skill guys the puck,” he said. “They can do the rest from there.”
Ballard, who earns US$4.2 million, came to Vancouver last spring in a trade with Florida. He has five points in 42 games and is averaging just 16 minutes of ice time playing mostly on the Canucks’ third pairing.