Just what the hell is a Keith Ballard?

The Least You Need To Know

-Keith Ballard is a 5'11", 205ish-pound, left-hand-shooting defenceman from Baudette, Minnesota, which is pretty much Canada. 

-He's 27, was drafted 11th-overall by Buffalo in 2002, and has played for Phoenix and Florida in a 5-year career. 

-His counting numbers show 149 points (33+116) and a minus-11 +/- difference in 397 career NHL games. 

-He averages about one penalty minute per game played.  Left to his own devices, he'll get into about 3.5 fights this year.  He'll win, like, none of them, unless it's against Sidney Crosby (more on that later).

-Having played for Phoenix and Florida, he's never tasted postseason action at the NHL level--in fact, his only postseason experience at all seems to be 10 games with the USHL's Omaha Lancers in 2001. 

-He signed a six-year, $25.2M deal last September, preventing him from becoming an RFA.  He has 5 years @ 4.2 per left.

Okay.  An inauspicious start.  After the jump, a slightly more in-depth look at Keith Ballard.

I'm going to look at his performance over the last three seasons.  This is mostly because behindthenet's data only goes back to 2007-2008 (that's "The Year the Canucks Missed the Playoffs for Reasons Still Not Totally Clear to Me and Luongo's Wife Had a Kid or Something and Nonis Got Fired" for those of you who keep track of time like me), and also because I don't really care what Ballard did as a 22-year-old.

For Reference
-2007-2008 saw Ballard on the Coyotes, whose D corps at the time consisted principally of Z.Michalek, E.Jovanovski, D.Morris, and N.Boyton (rankings out of five).

-2008-2009 saw Ballard on the Panthers, whose D corps at the time consisted principally of J.Bouwmeester, K.Skrastins, B.McCabe, J.Cullimore, and N.Boyton (six)

-2009-2010 saw Ballard on the Panthers, whose D corps at the time consisted principally of B.McCabe, D.Kulikov, D.Seidenberg, J.Leopold, and B.Allen (six).



First, let's look at Ballard's icetime breakdown at Even-Strength, PK, PP, and total (rank among team Dmen in brackets):
2007-08: 17:02(3rd), 3:31(1st), 0:41(3rd), 21:15(4th)   
2008-09: 17:37(3rd), 2:25(3rd), 2:20(3rd), 22:23(3rd) 
2009-10: 17:43(4th), 2:42(2nd), 1:58(4th),  22:24(4th)

Summary: We got our hands on a guy who's pretty clearly been used as a utility-infielder-type 3/4 Dman.  Which, in and of itself, is rarely a bad thing.


Real-Time Stats

On to his "real-time stats", as compiled by the NHL,  which here include hits, shot-blocks, and takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (higher the better, obvs) (team D rank in brackets).  Keep in mind that the recording of these stats is pretty sketchy league-wide, which makes interteam comparisons tough.  Intrateam comparisons, though, are probably safe-ish:
2007-08: 169(1st), 162(1st), 0.89(3rd)   
2008-09: 172(1st), 136(2nd), 0.35(3rd) 
2009-10: 156(1st), 201(1st), 0.30(6th)

Summary: Ballard gets credited for throwing a lot of hits, which is probably a positive.  Our only guys who compile that number of hits are Andrew Alberts and maybe Shane O'Brien.  Florida doesn't appear to inflate their hit totals too terribly, so I'm fairly comfortable in saying that Ballard will help us be more physical.  On the other hand, the turnover numbers got pretty ugly this year.  Let's hope it's scorer error or an eight-month coma that Ballard snapped out of in, like, late May. 



Included below are his points/goals/primary assists/secondary assists per 60 minutes of PP time and his PP Corsi per 60 (adjusted to be relative to his team).  Info c/o BtN.  
2007-08: 4.34/2.17/1.09/1.09 (2nd/2nd/2nd/3rd), -21(5th)
2008-09: 1.28/0/0.64/0.64 (5th/4th/3rd/4th), 1.1(basically tied for 2nd)
2009-10: 3.71/.74/1.48/1.48 (1st/1st/3rd/2nd), 7.2(1st) 

Summary: This looks sorta promising.  He was probably the most efficient PP guy on the Panthers this year, though given that team finished 29th in PP%, that might be damning with faint praise.  He's no Gonchar, but he can probably help on our second-unit PP this year.  Who knows--maybe a regular shift there (remember, he's never really been given a tonne of time time on the PP) will help him unleash some previously-unseen torrent of offensive power.  Realistically, though, he'll play with Salo on a solid 2nd unit. 



Lord knows we could use some help.  Shown are his Corsi (again, relative to his team) and his ranking among his teams' Dmen in terms of Quality of Competition.  Hat-tip: BtN.
2007-08: -20(5th), 3rd(of six)
2008-09: 6.7(3rd), 3rd(of seven)
2009-10: -14.3(3rd), 1st(of three)

Summary: The numbers for this year are somewhat incomplete, because both Leopold and Seidenberg spent big chunks of the season with Florida, but have their data appear elsewhere.  Regardless, Ballard looks, again, like a solid second-unit option.



Finally, a look at the most important stuff.  Listed are his points/60, his Corsi(relative to his team, again)/60, his rank in terms of quality of competition, and his zone-start (O-Zone faceoffs/[OZ+Dzone FOs]; lower means tougher assignments).  Thanks, BtN!
2007-08:  0.68(4th) -8.4(7th), 1st(of 8), 40% (3rd toughest)
2008-09: 1.08(2nd), 7.3(1st), 4th(of 7), 48%(4th toughest)
2009-10: 0.65(3rd), -9.0(5th), 1st(of 5), 42%(2nd toughest)

Summary: Some interesting stuff here.  In Phoenix, and last year in Florida, he was used on the go-to pairing, and didn't do particularly well.  But in 2008-2009, playing mostly with N.Boynton, he saw 2nd-pairing minutes (he was stuck behind Skrastins and Bouwmeester), and beat them up pretty thoroughly.  Hopefully we'll see more of that than the "Ballard tries to stop the Thorntons and Kovalchuks of the world--with hilarious results" show that the good people of the sunbelt have been subjected to on even-numbered seasons. 



-Ballard provided maybe my favourite moment of the 2009-2010 season.
-Ballard appears to love the hipcheckNo, seriously, it might be an addiction. (That fight against Crosby, btw, was one of, like, two wins given to Ballard in something like 20 NHL fights.  Neither here nor there.)
-Ballard once blew up one of eightyseven's cousins.



I think, in a vacuum, Keith Ballard's a great player to have around.  He's a fine option to roll out for 2nd-unit special teams duty, and he might very well be a good player for the Canucks if they're able to find him 2nd-pairing minutes and matchups.  He hasn't shown an ability to be a particularly effective top minute guy, though to be fair to Ballard, he's still quite young and hasn't exactly been paired with world-beaters.  I suspect if you were to pair him with a Pronger or a Weber he'd hold his own well against the NHL's first lines.  The Canucks, unfortunately, don't have such a luxury, and I have a feeling something like a Ballard+Salo pairing would get eaten alive by the Thorntons and Toews of the world.

Which brings us, sort of, to my main problem with Ballard:  he's no great bargain. $4.2M per is a fair chunk of change to lay out for any defenseman, especially for five more years.  Given that Ballard's proven little more than an ability to be a good part on a bad team, it's a bit of a scary proposition.  I'd be happy to pay him that on the open market, but given that we had to trade--and dearly--for his services, he'd better have another gear to his game if this is going to work out for Mike Gillis.  If Ballard's able to assume a Willie Mitchell-type role (taking on the best and treading water) at any point during the length of his contract, I'll be ecstatic and a little surprised.  I suppose we'll see.

Long story short: I kinda like Ballard, and I think he'll provide average value for his money.  I'll be pretty scared, though, if we go into the season with him as our top defensive shutdown option. 

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