According to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo, the Minnesota Wild have exchanged one Minnesota native for another as Keith Ballard signs and Matt Cullen moves on.
Ballard’s new contract is reportedly worth $3 Million over two years.
“It is exciting in the sense that I’ve enjoyed playing here on a visiting team,” said Ballard, saying he got interest from a half-dozen teams. “I love the building, I’ve got great memories playing here in the three years in college and playing in front of these fans. And I know the support that the team gets. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be nice to be closer to family and friends, but at the same time, this isn’t a big homecoming celebration.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to reestablish my career. It’s an important year for me. I’m not overly wrapped up in that side of it. I’m just focused on putting all my efforts into having a good year and helping the team do well.”
The signing of Ballard rounds out a legitimate NHL top-4 with All-Star Ryan Suter, All-Rookie Jonas Brodin and the diminutive, yet talented, Jared Spurgeon. A left shot blue liner, the Baudette, Minnesota native will play right side for the Wild, meaning the right shot Spurgeon will likely play on his left. As of right now, Clayton Stoner and Elk River, Minnesota native Nate Prosser comprise the bottom pairing. Marco Scandella and 2012 7th overall pick Mathew Dumba will also be given a long look in training camp.
Conversely, when free agency opens at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Matt Cullen will be free to sign with any team–and it won’t be Minnesota.
“Chuck said all along he wasn’t going to [offer a contract] unless he could make a legitimate offer,” Cullen said. “That’s a pretty classy move. He called me last night and we talked a little while and he said it’s a tough call to make, but he just can’t find the room to make an offer. So that was it.
“It was a sad night in the Cullen household last night. We were pretty disappointed, but understanding of the situation.”
It’s highly unlikely Cullen has played his last NHL game, however. The veteran center is coming off a strong campaign, is a proven winner and says there has been “plenty of interest”.
“It’s kind of interesting because all along in the back of my mind I expected it would eventually work out with Minnesota,” Cullen said. “Now it’s a completely different mindset, and I took last night to regroup and gather my thoughts and emotions and start thinking about the future here.
“For me, the priority is going to a place where I have a chance to win along with the family situation.
“Chuck was great though. He could have made this a lot more difficult than he did, but I got the strong impression that he tried awful hard, but it’s just one of those things. It’s a tough cap situation.”
It remains to be seen who will take Cullen’s place as No. 2 center; Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle are the two most likely candidates for the job. One thing is for sure, the NHL hasn’t seen the last of Matt Cullen.