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Signs say Walz pondering retirement

  • Article by: Michael Russo
  • Star Tribune
  • November 4, 2007 - 10:21 PM

Four days after being excused from the Wild for "personal reasons," Wes Walz has still not surfaced and all indications are the veteran center is contemplating his future in the NHL.

Thursday morning, the Wild front office said Walz, one of the most popular players in team history, would be away for "two or three days." Saturday night, General Manager Doug Risebrough referred questions regarding Walz to his agent, Jay Grossman.

Via e-mail Sunday, Grossman said that he understands the concern and the need to address Walz's absence, but "the matter is personal and he is going to need additional time."

Walz, who could not be reached Sunday, has been incommunicado since Wednesday's practice. Teammates have been told that Walz will be away for an undetermined amount of time but that he's OK and that nothing's wrong with any member of his family.

Some teammates, who have not spoken to Walz directly but have exchanged text messages voicing support, speculate the 37-year-old veteran forward is questioning his desire and ability to continue playing.

One of two original members still with the Wild (Marian Gaborik is the other), Walz is the team's all-time leader with 438 games played. His 82 goals and 182 points rank second to Gaborik.

A tremendous-skating checker, Walz has been a heart-and-soul leader, a positive influence on up-and-comers such as Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns.

In 2002-03, Walz was a Selke Trophy (NHL's best defensive forward) finalist, and that was before a marvelous playoff in which he scored seven goals and shut down stars such as Peter Forsberg.

But he's a proud player, and this season he hasn't seemed comfortable, scoring one goal (although it was a beauty in his hometown of Calgary) with three assists. He's also a minus-5, playing 13 minutes, 48 seconds a game (15th on the team).

In his last game, a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Walz played against the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin juggernaut. The duo combined for seven points, Walz was on for two goals against and he was beaten on 13 of 16 faceoffs.

Not wanting to make a long-term offer in case of retirement or career-ending injury, Risebrough re-signed Walz to a one-year deal worth $1.4 million (including bonuses). The unused cap hit would be erased if Walz retires.

Walz has considered retirement during the past three offseasons. And after last season, Walz admitted he was disappointed at his playoff performance.

In April 2006, Walz said: "I don't think I'm going to be one of those guys who's going to hang on and they're going to cut my skates off. I enjoy coming to the rink. I love competing. But there's more to life than hockey."

Walz, a former Boston Bruins pick, was a junior star for Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League (83 points and 244 points). He spent the next several years shuffling back and forth between the NHL and minors before spending four years in Switzerland. Risebrough called in 2000 with an offer from the expansion Wild.

"I thought for sure I was riding off into the sunset 10 years ago," Walz said in January 2006. "But I always felt I had more to give over here. I'm just so glad I was given an opportunity to satisfy my dreams of playing in the NHL and maybe even having an impact."

Michael Russo • mrusso@startribune.com

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