Keith Ballard was asked before a playoff game against the San Jose Sharks if he thought his coach had confidence in him.

Raw and honest, he admitted he had no clue.

That was two years ago. On the surface, not much has changed.

However, it doesn’t take much scratching to see Ballard is different and in significant ways.

First of all, he cracked up when reminded his situation is the same as it ever was. At this point, what else can he do?

"I’ve had some practice at this," he said, laughing at the prospect of another healthy scratch.

He’s on the outside looking in, as another green rookie passes him on the depth chart. Two years ago it was Chris Tanev. For Game 1 against San Jose, it will be Frank Corrado who is set to play on a pairing with Andrew Alberts, pushing Ballard and his $4.2 million salary to the press box. Again.

Ballard, too eager to beat himself up, has always taken responsibility for Alain Vigneault’s decisions to bench him, even if the smooth-skating, risk-taking, left side defenceman has routinely been miscast as a safe, puck-off-the-boards right-side blueliner. That’s when the coach isn’t experimenting with Ballard as a fourth-line winger.

"I’m the one responsible," he said. "Everyone wants to pick their role, and be in the one they’re most comfortable with. But that’s not how it works. It’s unrealistic."

His ego bruised, in fact soundly lashed, some may see a player who has been beaten up. But he’s hardly a beaten man. He’s found a way to let go of the heartbreak which can accompany the harsh realization your coach simply doesn’t think you’re good enough.

Part of the reason sits directly across the locker room from him, often in goalie pads.

"(Roberto) Luongo is an awesome teammate, I have more respect for him than anyone I’ve ever played with," Ballard said. "His level of professionalism is amazing. I think I learned a lot from him this year.

"It’s been a rough go for him . As soon as you start feeling sorry for yourself and say ‘Woe is me,’ you look at that guy over there.

"You see him, and how good a teammate he is. And how good a leader he is.

"It’s not to say I’m not disappointed. You can have feelings. But when you’re here at the rink, you’re pulling for the guys in here. He supports (Cory) Schneider 100 per cent.

"I know when he gets in the net, he never wants to leave it. And I think everyone is the same way."