Rick Stewart - Getty Images
Chroniciling a night of ineptitude that Keith Ballard will never forget.
Whether you like to admit it or not, the Winnipeg Jets are the reincarnate of the Atlanta Thrashers.
You can use all the whitewash you'd like, it still won't change the truth. This version of the Winnipeg Jets originated in 1999 when the NHL awarded the city of Atlanta their second expansion franchise in two decades as Gary Bettman desperately tried to build the NHL's stronghold on southern U.S. markets.
History can not be unwritten.
But it's not all bad. Although the record books are chock full of Atlanta Thrashers not-so-greatness, the Thrashers also still lay claim to the greatest blooper in franchise history. And it's awesome!
Ed. Note: This may or may not actually be the best blooper in Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets history. It was slim pickens on YouTube.
Let's set the scene:
It was the night of Monday, November 30, 2009. The Florida Panthers were visiting the Thrashers in front of 10,310 brave souls who thought they had tickets to an Atlanta Hawks game. It was the first of six battles between the two Southeast Divisional opponents on the year. Both squads were hungry, looking to jockey for early supremacy in the standings. The Thrashers were 13-7-3 coming into the contest, a record good enough for seventh place in the conference -- though it wouldn't last.
With the score deadlocked at 1-1 midway through the first period, Ilya Kovalchuk took a pass from Nik Antropov and proceeded to emasculate Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard before shoveling home a rebound attempt past the outstretched limbs of goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
Then, hilarity struck.
Feeling down on himself for his shitty defensive lapse, Ballard -- seemingly intoxicated by his own awfulness -- stops, turns and takes a two handed baseball chop at the goalpost. Instead, he makes direct contact with the head of Vokoun, leaving him battered, concussed and bloodied.
Cue the stretcher.
The Thrashers went on to win the game by a score of 4-3, thanks to Ballard's contributions. He finished with a -1 rating on the night, but the injury to Vokoun proved invaluable for the Thrashers. At seasons' end, the Thrashers finished a full 6 points ahead of their border-state rivals, good enough for 10th overall in the conference.
A triumph in mediocrity!
Here are Ballard's comments after the game, via the CBC:
"I just felt terrible," Ballard said. "I didn't know what to say. I don't know how many times I apologized and we talked for a bit and he came back and sat with me and we talked for a while longer. In those 15 or so minutes, I don't know how many times I apologized. Finally, he's just like, 'Don't worry about it, it's enough.'"
While Vokoun has gone on to have what is still being considered a solid NHL career, the same cannot be said of Ballard. The following season he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, where he has continued to regress well past being a relevant defenseman.
Seventh on the depth chart but number one in your hearts.
If the NHL lockout serves for anything positive, it will be to impose a 24% rollback to Ballard's 6-year 4.2MM contract; a fantastic encapsulation of the incompetent asset management which has taken place league-wide these past several years.
And when the dust settles, Ballard will have Ilya Kovalchuk to thank.