Wild agree to terms with former Gophers D Ballard

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild sure know how to celebrate the Fourth of July.

After signing the two biggest free agents on the market, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, last year on July 4, Minnesota added former University of Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard on Thursday, according to the team’s Twitter account.

Ballard and the Wild agreed to terms on a two-year contract. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported the deal is worth $3 million for Ballard, who was a compliance buyout by the Vancouver Canucks this week.

Ballard, 30, is from Baudette, Minn., and starred with the Gophers, where he won two National Championships. Ballard has 36 goals and 129 assists for 165 points over 545 career NHL games with Vancouver, Phoenix and Florida. He was a first-round draft choice, No. 11 overall, in 2002 by the Buffalo Sabres.

“Congrats to Keith Ballard and MN #Wild agreeing to 2yr deal,” Ballard’s agent, Ben Hankinson, wrote on his Twitter page Thursday. “Keith will be great fit. Bally now get out and enjoy the rest of July 4th!”

Hankinson tweeted that Ballard was called by Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher, coach Mike Yeo and Parise as part of the sales pitch to come back to return to his roots.

The Wild had a need for defensive help after making Bloomington, Minn., native Tom Gilbert a buyout casualty on Thursday. In the new collective bargaining agreement, each team is allowed two compliance buyouts over the next two years to account for the decreasing salary cap.

Ballard signed a six-year, $25.2 million contract with Florida in 2009 and was traded a year later to the Canucks. But Ballard, who had scored eight goals and had 20 assists a year earlier with Florida, never got on track with Vancouver. He had three goals and 13 assists in 148 games over the past three seasons with the Canucks. Ballard went without a goal and had just two assists last season in 36 games.

Ballard averaged 6.6 goals and 23.2 assists per season his first five years in the league with Phoenix and Florida. 

Minnesota and Ballard agreed to the terms, but the signing won’t become official until Friday, when the NHL free-agency period begins at 11 a.m. CT.

Last year the Wild signed Parise and Suter to those franchise-altering 13-year, $98 million contracts on the Fourth of July, ending an intense bidding process for the two coveted free agents. With Parise and Suter leading the way, Minnesota snapped a four-year playoff drought last season.

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