Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Keith Ballard getting lots of interest, says Minnesota's an option

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: July 4, 2013 - 12:13 PM
Keith Ballard cleared unconditional waivers at 11 a.m. this morning, paving the way for his buyout from the Vancouver Canucks.
 
Minutes afterward, his agent’s phone started ringing. The Wild was one team that immediately expressed interest in the 30-year-old defenseman.
 
“I’m excited to see what’s out there and what opportunities there are,” Ballard said. “Minnesota’s an option, and I think for me Minnesota makes sense, that I’m familiar with the guys, obviously that I live here, that I train with some of the guys during the offseason. But ultimately that’s not going to be the determining factor at all.
 
“It’s more of where’s a good opportunity? I’m not looking for anything more than a chance to play. I’m not looking for a long-term deal or anything, more just an opportunity to get my career back going where I think it can.”
 
The Wild’s in the market for a defenseman or two this summer after today’s buyout of 30-year-old Tom Gilbert also became complete. He will receive $1 million this year and the next. Ballard will have the final two years of his contract bought out and will receive $1.4 million the next four years.
 
Ballard never got off to the right foot in Vancouver after his 2010 acquisition from Florida, but he’s only 30, still skates well, is physical, is willing to block a shot and proved, at least before Vancouver, that he can score some points. He can play right D, which is a need now in Minnesota.
 
“I did need a change, so to me, the buyout is a good thing,” the former Gophers national champ said. “In my meetings at the end of the year with management in Vancouver, we all agreed that however it worked out, I needed a change. It’s a funny feeling. In a lot of ways I’m very excited, but it’s disappointing that it got to this. I’m so excited for the opportunity and what’s going to come this next season."
 
The Wild, which frees up an additional $4 million by buying out Gilbert, will be looking for some bargains. Ballard seems willing to sign a one- or two-year deal in an attempt to reestablish his career.
 
“It’s not me looking to go play somewhere for a couple years and ride off into the sunset and have a little cash along the way and call it a day,” he said. “I think I have a lot of years left in me. But this is an important year for me, so it’s going to be what fits the best.”
 
Of course, depending on the interest, that could change. Apparently, there’s been a lot already.
 
The Wild, as I reported in today’s paper, has called into other defensemen as well.
 
If there’s any other news today, I will update the blog from Target Field, where I do plan to take in the Twins-Yankees game.
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