Wild shore up defense by signing Ballard, Spurgeon
With precious little space left under the salary cap, the
Minnesota Wild were looking for another experienced, puck-moving
Keith Ballard was seeking a fresh start, and thus the match was
The Wild signed Ballard to a two-year, $3 million contract on
Friday and also re-signed defenseman Jared Spurgeon to a
three-year, $8 million contract.
Minnesota wasn’t done yet shaking up its roster. The Wild freed
up salary-cap space by trading forward Devin Setoguchi to the
Winnipeg Jets for a second-round pick in next year’s draft. They
also signed forward Matt Cooke, a 14-year NHL veteran who has spent
the past five seasons with Pittsburgh.
Ballard was let go by Vancouver earlier this week when the
Canucks used a compliance buyout to help their own salary cap
situation. He said he had interest from a half-dozen other teams
but picked the Wild because he believed he best fit with them on
As a bonus, well, he’s one of the many NHL players who are
natives of this hockey-rich state.
”I’m excited for playing in front of these fans in this
building,” Ballard said at Xcel Energy Center, where he won the
first of two NCAA championships with the University of Minnesota.
”I’ve had a lot of real good memories here. The fans in Minnesota
As the first day of NHL free agency began, the Wild let right
wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard and center Matt Cullen sign elsewhere.
Ballard was all they had room for, with the salary cap decreasing
But the 30-year-old’s skill set, track record and experience
level were well worth that remaining space for the Wild. With Ryan
Suter, named a first team NHL All-Star, anchoring the blue line
they’ve got talent in that group. But Jonas Brodin, Marco
Scandella, Clayton Stoner and Spurgeon are young. So another
veteran voice was desired. The Wild used a compliance buyout to
release defenseman Tom Gilbert this week as well.
”He competes, he can skate, he can move the puck, and he’s a
good player,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. ”Our defense
is much deeper today than it was yesterday.”
Ballard, who is from the town of Baudette, Minn., on the
Canadian border, consulted with new teammate Zach Parise on
Thursday to find out what his experience of returning to his home
state to play in was like. Ballard was satisfied with what he
”We’re used to moving away here every fall and being on our own
and your life slows down a little bit. But he said it was fun and
he really enjoyed it,” Ballard said. ”You can get wrapped up in
all your buddies and all your friends and getting pulled in every
direction, but for me I understand that this is an important year
and you’ve got to be able to balance everything.”
Ballard averaged nearly 30 points per season over his first five
years in the league, three with Phoenix and two with Florida.
Traded to the Canucks, Ballard’s game fell off in Vancouver that
first season and never recovered.
”I came in there just off of a fairly major hip surgery, and I
wasn’t really ready to go to start the season, and you kind of get
one first impression, right?” Ballard said. ”It took me awhile
just to get comfortable on the ice, and I had some injuries that
year. It was partially that and partially trying to get accustomed
to a role that was probably different than what I was used to the
first five years of my career.”
Said Fletcher: ”We’re pretty confident that we can get his game
back and he can get his game back to what it was before.”
Spurgeon will make $1.5 million this season, $2.9 million in
2014-15 and $3.6 million in 2015-16. He had five goals and 10
assists in 39 games last season.
Cullen signed a two-year, $7 million contract with
”We lost a really good person and a really good player, but
that’s the nature of the cap system,” Fletcher said. ”Fortunately
we have good depth up front.”
Bouchard signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the New
York Islanders. He’d been with the Wild since they took him with
the eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft, and he’s second in
franchise history with 565 games and 241 assists.
”The cruel irony I guess is he’s finally getting healthy, and
now he’s going to play his best hockey in a long time,” Fletcher
said. ”I’m very happy for him.”
Despite the loss of two of their most experienced players,
Fletcher noted the Wild have seven veterans among their top 10
forwards. The departures, though, mean more contributions will be
needed from Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker. Others
waiting in the wings who could push for roster spots in training
camp are Brett Bulmer, Justin Fontaine and Zack Phillips.
”No team’s perfect, but our team right now is deep and we have
several all-star caliber players and we have a lot of character in
the group and some pretty good skill,” Fletcher said. ”It’s a
good mix. We like where we’re at.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to