ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — With precious little space left under the salary cap, the Minnesota Wild were looking for another experienced, puck-moving defenseman.
Keith Ballard was seeking a fresh start, and thus the match was made.
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 the ice.
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 are amazing."
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 this season.
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 heard.
"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."