As we await the beginning of the new NHL season, I’ll be previewing each of the players in the Minnesota Wild system who will be on the roster, or competing for a place this year. My subject for this edition is Keith Ballard.
Ballard started the 2013 season on the Canucks 3rd pairing where he did well alongside Chris Tanev. Eventually they got split-up after an injury to Kevin Bieksa, and when Bieksa returned Ballard was scratched. He dressed as a forward for a few games due to team injuries, before breaking his foot and missing the rest of the regular season. He was a healthy scratch for the playoffs.
During the offseason, the Canucks decided to use one of their compliance buyouts on Ballard and he was bought-out of the last two years of his $4.2 million a year contract. Afterwards, he signed a two-year, $3 million contract with the Wild.
-Here are some of his regular season numbers from last season:
|SHOOTING %/SHOTS ATTEMPTED||0.0%/35|
Ballard managed to get 35 shots on goal last year without a single one going in, which is pretty unlucky. He chipped-in a couple of assists, which is quite low for a guy often praised for his ability to move the puck up the ice. He both took and drew a lot of penalties last year, and played a decent amount of minutes, including PK time.
-Here are some more in-depth numbers from that season:
|OFFENSIVE ZONE START %||49.3%|
|OFFENSIVE ZONE FINISH %||52.9%|
|QUALITY OF COMPETITION||-1.066|
|SHOTS FOR/20 MINS||9.622|
|GOALS FOR/20 MINS||0.404|
|SHOTS AGAINST/20 MINS||8.773|
|GOALS AGAINST/20 MINS||0.526|
|5v5 1st ASSIST/60||0.121|
Ballard had fewer than half of his shifts starting in the offensive zone, but managed to finish more than half there, which is good. He played reasonably soft competition and posted a Corsi On of +2.18. His PDO was slightly South of 1000, suggesting a he suffered from some poor luck in terms of On-Ice Shooting Percentage and On-Ice Save Percentage.
-Here’s the Player Usage Chart for the Canucks defencemen who played at least 10 games in 2012-2013:
(Click To Enlarge) (Bubble Size=Corsi On Rating. Blue Bubble=Postive. Red Bubble=Negative)
Since Ballard signed there has been a lot of excitement in the State Of Hockey, partly due to the fact that he was a hero for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in college hockey from 2001 to 2004, and also because he’s a Minnesota native, so he passes the average fan’s “is he one of us?” litmus test. He fills an immediate need on the blueline, as he is a nasty, physical defenceman who can play at both ends of the ice and throws a devastating hip-check.
A lot of talk and depth-chart predictions have put Ballard on the 2nd pairing beside either Spurgeon or Scandella, and people keep referring to either his successful college career or how good he used to be for the Coyotes and Panthers in their evaluations of him. His 3 seasons with the Canucks are being written off as a blip, with a change of scenery being enough to get him back to playing his best. I have an issue with this line of thinking.
A change of scenery isn’t going to suddenly erase the last 3 years of a 30-year old defenceman’s career and magically have him playing like he’s 25 again. I think Ballard was a smart signing, but I’m keeping my expectations low for now. He might turn out to be a serviceable top-4 defenceman, but I’ll be satisfied if he can establish himself as a top quality 3rd pairing guy, which is probably a more likely scenario.
To gain a better understanding of Ballard’s career so that I can frame my expectations properly, I’m gonna examine some of his career numbers and trends.
-Here’s his career Games Played and TOI/G year by year:
Ballard has missed a lot of time with injury over the last 3 seasons and has also seen his TOI/G drop-off too in the same time period. The Wild’s perennial 2nd pairing guy, Jared Spurgeon, played over 20 minutes a night last year, so if Ballard is to be a 2nd pairing d-man this year, then he will need to be able to play 20+ a night, something he hasn’t done since 2009-2010.
-Next, his Points Per Game and Sh% each season since he entered the league:
Ballard’s points production and Sh% have both plummeted rapidly since 2009-2010. The reason for this is unclear, but so far, it appears that the move to Vancouver led to injury problems, a smaller role and a huge drop in production.
-Here are the Fenwick For % numbers when Ballard has been on the ice each year since 07-08 (stats unavailable before that season):
Ballard’s Fenwick numbers weren’t overly-impressive in the early part of his career, but have steadily improved since he moved to Vancouver. This is most-likely because the Canucks are an excellent possession team and the Panthers and Coyotes traditionally aren’t, but still, Ballard has turned into a solid possession player.
-Here are his Quality of Competition and Teammates stats, using the ‘Hard QoC’ and ‘Hard QoT rankings at Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, as explained in this glossary:
As you can see, his QoT sky-rocketed in his first season with the Canucks, on that excellent team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Since then, it has steadily declined, reaching a point last year where it was comparable to his QoT in Phoenix and Florida.
It’s also interesting that he has never really faced tough assignments, going up against QoC in the negative every year since 2007-2008.
My takeaways from the data above are that Ballard played easier competition with better teammates while in Vancouver, but, for some reason, his offensive production completely deserted him. His Fenwick numbers suggest that he has continued to be effective defensively but he has suffered from a lot of injury problems which may be the cause of his dramatic change of fortunes, offensively.
-Here are the WOWY numbers for Ballard’s 5 most common defensive partners since 2008:
|TEAMMATE||TOI W/KB||CF%-TOGETHER||CF%-BALLARD APART||CF%-TEAMMATE APART||GF%-TOGETHER||GF%-BALLARD APART||GF%-TEAMMATE APART|
There’s not a whole pile to be learned from these. The difference in qulaity between the Canucks and the Panthers/Coyotes creates a lot of noise in these numbers. One interesting thing is how strong Ballard’s GF% numbers have been. He seems to be good at keeping it above 50%.
Ballard has had a rough couple of years. If injuries truly were the reason, then maybe, if he is past them, he won’t have a hard time rolling back the years here in Minnesota. On the other hand, if his last few years are a true indication of his talent declining, then he probably isn’t a player the Wild want to have on their 2nd pairing.
My ideal configuration would be to have Scandella and Spurgeon on the 2nd pairing with Ballard and Dumba/Blum/Stoner on the 3rd pairing. Ballard would actually be a great mentor for Dumba, as he possess some similar attributes and has the same physical side to his game.
I think, if he can stay healthy, Ballard will be a solid 3rd pairing defenceman for the Wild. I don’t expect much more than that, but if he does end up becoming a lot more, then I will be very pleased.
His Season Is A Success If…
His Season Is A Disappointment If…
….his recent struggles continue with injuries and lack of offence.
Okay, that’s it for Ballard. Next, I’ll be taking a look at Jason Zucker and previewing his 2013/2014 campaign.
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Previous articles in this series:
*Numbers in this article courtesy of: