It appears as though the “Fire Vigneault” crowd has finally found their martyr. Wouldn’t you know it, of all people, it’s trade bust Keith Ballard. You know, the guy we gave up a thirty goal scorer (Michael Grabner) apparently dependable fourth liner (Steve Bernier) and a first round draft pick for. He’s also the same guy that fought with Aaron Rome for ice time. Or as the twitterverse describes it, was victim to the inhumane wrath of Alain Vigneault.
Before I delve too deeply into this piece, I feel it necessary to make it perfectly clear that I for one haven’t had much to complain about with regards to Ballard’s play this season. He’s played a relatively mistake free game, and according to Thomas Drance of Canucks Army he’s done it against above average levels of competition. Is it not just a little telling that this, Ballard’s best season as a Canuck thus far, carries one assist and an even rating though?
Based on the reaction on the interweb, you would almost think Vigneault had benched Wayne Gretzky to give more playing time to Brad Isbister. Such was not the case though. He benched the sixth best defensemen on the depth chart in favor of Andrew Alberts the first game, then much to the shock of everyone Alberts and newcomer Cam Barker in the second. Oh, in case you were wondering all the hubbub really is about Ballard being a healthy scratch for only two games. To this point.
It’s not a move I endorse. It’s not a move I would make. It’s also not entirely unwarranted based on his performances leading up to the benching though and far from anything new in the realm of coaching. Coaches, much like the rest of us, like some people and dislike others. Vigneault clearly doesn’t like Ballard. He spends more time in his doghouse than in the lineup. Not saying I agree with it, but it’s happened to plenty of defencemen before him and continues to happen to others across the league. Warranted or not. Coaches are paid to make these kinds of decisions and if Vigneault feels he has a better chance with Alberts and Barker in the lineup than Ballard, I can live with that. I remember thinking Kesler with the Sedins on the power play was the stupidest decision ever. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Without further adieu, I feel I have to provide evidence just to show how silly this whole “Ballard is a victim of unfair persecution” argument really is. As with most claims against Vigneault, this one of him being the only coach to bench a highly paid player just isn’t true. Here are multiple examples of persecution, league wide, past and present.
Shaone Morrison, 2yr/$4.15M Buffalo Sabres: Brought in via free agency to help recover from the loss of Lydman and Tallinder in the same off season, he didn’t even last 82 games. He played 62 in his only season with the club. His struggles with injuries and Pegula inspired spending spree made Morrison expendable. Think Ballard has it bad? Morrison was sent to Rochester. He now plays in the KHL.
Carl Gunnarsson, 2yr/$2.65M Toronto Maple Leafs: I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Ballard does make nearly double what Gunnarsson does. Sure, fine. That being said, last year Gunnarsson was a top pairing defenseman with Dion “velcro shoes” Phaneuf. He’s been a healthy scratch twice this season. Or what Canucks fans call, a victim of unimaginable tyranny.
Mike Komisarek, 5yr/$22.5M Toronto Maple Leafs: Much like Ballard, Komisarek never really fit in with his new team. Unlike Ballard, no offense was ever expected of Komisarek. He still couldn’t meet the “just don’t screw up” level of play expected of him. Komisarek’s played four games this season.
John-Michael Liles, 4yr/$15.5M Toronto Maple Leafs: Raise your hand if you think Mike Kostka, Mark Fraser or Cody Franson are better than Liles. Ya, I didn’t think so. They’ve all played more games than him. It’s not Vancouver though, and with Ron Wilson being the previous coach why question anything the god we call Randy Carlyle does. Why hasn’t he demanded a trade yet! Oh the inhumanity!
Jeff Schultz, 4yr/$11M Washington Capitals: A mainstay stay at home defenseman under Bruce Boudreau, this blueliner saw his ice time and role decrease significantly when Dale Hunter took over.
Ryan Whitney, 6yr/$24M Edmonton Oilers: Since coming to the Oilers via trade he’s been an assist machine... when healthy. Health struggles and difficulty adapting to Krueger’s new system has him being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career this season. Then a few times after. Krueger never gave him a chance!
Marek Zidlicky, 3yr/$12M Minnesota Wild/New Jersey Devils: When Mike Yeo took over in Minnesota it was the beginning of the end for Zidlicky. His playing time decreased, his points decreased, his role decreased etc. etc. He gets traded to New Jersey, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s the power play quarterback they needed in the playoffs. Go figure.
Tomas Kaberle, 3yr/$12.75M Carolina Hurricanes/Montreal Canadiens: The Hurricanes were stupid enough to sign him to the deal and the Habs were even dumber by saving them from it. A once beloved point getting defensemen for the Maple Leafs is now a healthy scratch and buyout candidate with the Habs. Where will this unthinkable persecution end?
Anton Volchenkov, 6yr/$25.5M New Jersey Devils: Gotta say I’m a huge Volchenkov fan. That being said, I am outraged and want Deboer fired for having scratched him for a game tonight. This is surely personal, unfair and points to him being a horrible coach.
I could go on for pages and pages and pages. My point? Quit pretending this validates your appetite for a coaching change. Quit making Ballard out to be some poor miscast miscreant whose production hasn’t warranted a spot in the dog house. The same crowd that wanted Jason Garrison bought out after two weeks, actually has the gall to pretend Ballard’s the most hard done by NHLer to ever lace up the skates. For context, Garrison 3Gs in 21 games Ballard 3Gs 131 games. In all seriousness though, remember the last time somebody was in AV’s doghouse. Not Hodgson, that’s another article entirely. Shane O’Brien is who I’m thinking of. Well, he’s hardly played better with other coaches. Must be PTSD from playing with Vigneault...
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