Jordan Leopold and Keith Ballard both spent part of the 2014-2015 season with the Minnesota Wild, and now both are considering retirement — but the reason each player was only on the Wild for part of the year is quite different, and both retirement considerations should be examined as such.
Leopold, at 35, was dealt to the Wild at the trade deadline in the wake of the heartwarming story of his daughter sending the Wild a letter asking to have her dad brought back to his home state. His family lived there, and the former University of Minnesota alum — who, were he to truly retire following this past season, would walk away from the game with nearly 700 NHL games under his belt — was starting to become a bit of a veteran journeyman. His daughter reportedly asked the team to bring him home, and they did.
Ballard, on the other hand, didn’t have as heartwarming a story last year.
The former 11th overall pick — drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2002, although his rights would get dealt twice while at the University of Minnesota himself — arguably has stopped competing at the NHL level the way he’s expected to; at 5 foot 11 and known for stirring the pot on the ice, Ballard has dwindled as a puck-mover in recent years. The 32 year old isn’t necessarily walking away from the game for that reason, though — due to a concussion sustained during the regular season last year, Ballard only played in 14 NHL games. Those may have been his last.
It’s been no secret that Ballard is considering retirement, and for a much more ominous reason than Leopold — post-concussion syndrome is no joke, and studies linking the head injury-related symptoms to later-onset CTE make the prospect of getting back on the ice a little scary for guys like Ballard. He’s been open about his decision not to dress for any games over the latter part of the season last year, making it clear that the concussion would likely hold him out of the game for good — but as he and fellow Minnesota native contemplate walking away from the NHL following their partial years with the Wild, it’s worth taking a look at what that means.
For Leopold, it could mean anything. The 35 year old family man could become a coach, a front office personnel, or simply take a step back and spend time with family for a while. He’s not worth quite what a player like Sidney Crosby is, but $20.15 million in career NHL earnings is nothing to scoff at. If Leopold wants to sit out for a while and contemplate his next move, no one would fault him.
Ballard, on the other hand, may want to look at being a mouthpiece — and working with fellow rough-and-tumble ex-NHLer Dan Carcillo, who is looking to work with players who walk away from the game as they ease into new life roles and careers. Another player who has suffered from concussions and the aftereffects, Carcillo may be the only player who has been more open than Ballard about post-concussion syndrome and the dangers of leaving it unwatched; the two could make a dynamic team, should that be a path Ballard wants to take.