Neither Ballard, 32, and Leopold, 35, have confirmed their desire to retire from the game, but both blueliners told the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Michael Russo that their circumstances dictate they may have played their final campaign’s in the NHL.
For Ballard, injuries — especially concussions — have potentially ended his career. Over his 10-year NHL career, Ballard has suffered at least four documented concussions, with the latest, an injury sustained Dec. 9, keeping him out of the lineup for 66 games this past season. This comes less than three years after headaches stemming from a concussion kept him out of the Vancouver Canucks’ for 28 contests.
“I’m just trying to get healthy,” Ballard told Russo. “If I make a full recovery from this one, I’ll chalk it up to good luck. But I admit, if I’m hit like this again, I’m a little freaked out about what would happen the next time.”
Ballard’s December concussion resulted in a scary scene in which the defenseman was left writhing on the ice. A stretcher was brought out to take Ballard off the ice, but he instead skated off with the help of the training and medical staff.
But while injuries may have cut Ballard’s career short, Leopold’s situation is much different. More than anything, it appears more like he’s simply ready to walk away.
According to Russo, Leopold isn’t dead-set on retiring, but he also hasn’t requested that his agent find him a contract for the 2015-16 season. The wait-and-see approach to finding a deal in what has been an incredibly conservative off-season likely won’t result in Leopold scoring a new contract before training camp.
If Leopold does come back to the NHL this upcoming season, it would likely be as an injury replacement. However, after a heartfelt letter from his daughter to the Wild organization went viral, Leopold may not be willing to go too far from home to continue his career.
In 2014-15, Leopold, who was a top-pairing defenseman during the middle-years of his career, averaged less than 15 minutes of ice time per game, and only skated in 43 contests. The remaining 39 games saw Leopold watching as a healthy scratch, and the 12-year veteran scored just one goal and four points.
Neither Leopold nor Ballard have officially announced their intention to retire.