Sean Hill won't be able to play the first six weeks or so of next season, but the longtime NHL defenseman is close to coming home.
Multiple sources confirmed Monday night that the Wild is close to signing the 37-year-old Duluth native to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.
Reached at his North Carolina home, Hill said, "We've definitely had talks and we're getting there, but at this point, I don't want to say anything more and jinx it. But things are moving along good and it's been very positive."
In April, Hill, at the end of a strong season for the Islanders, became the first player to be suspended under the NHL's drug policy. He appealed the automatic 20-game suspension, but the suspension was upheld.
Hill has 19 games left to serve. He's adamantly denied using performance-enhancing drugs and said Monday he'd address the suspension at a later time.
According to sources, the Wild has been told Hill's version of events and was comfortable enough to move forward with negotiations.
Hill, a former University of Wisconsin standout, is a rugged, hard-hitting defender with a cannon shot from the point. He was third in the NHL last season with 252 hits and sixth with 202 blocked shots and formed a formidable Islanders duo with Brendan Witt to play against top lines. He was second on the Isles in ice time, averaging 22 minutes, 32 seconds a game.
Hill has played for seven teams over 13 seasons. In 841 career games, he's scored 60 goals and had 289 points with 976 penalty minutes.
The Wild signed 30-year-old center Steve Kelly as a depth player. The 6-2, 210-pound center will make $500,000 in the NHL, and a guaranteed $175,000 if he ends up playing in the minors. Kelly spent the past three seasons in Germany, where he scored 113 points and amassed 582 penalty minutes. In 147 NHL games with Edmonton, Tampa Bay, New Jersey and Los Angeles, Kelly's scored 21 points and has 83 penalty minutes. He also won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2000.