Keith Ballard (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)
Minnesota Wild defenseman Keith Ballard is reportedly considering retirement after suffering three concussions in 14 months. The latest head injury came on Dec. 9 in a game against the New York Islanders when Ballard was forced out of the game after suffering facial fractures and a concussion.
The first well-documented instance of Keith Ballard suffering a concussion in the NHL came in 2010. Ballard, then 27, missed only five games. It was an unfortunate sign of what was to come, as five years later, concussions may claim Ballard’s career.
According to Minnesota Star Tribune’s Michael Russo, Ballard has suffered three concussions in the last 14 months. The first of those three came on Oct. 15, 2013, and it’s the one that may have started the whole spiral. Coming almost three years to the day of the head injury in 2010, Ballard hasn’t been the same since suffering the early 2013-14 concussion. Now, as he waits for the symptoms of the concussion he suffered on Dec. 9 to clear, he admitted to Russo that retirement is on his mind.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who spoke to thn.com at the World Junior Championship, said he hasn't spoken to Ballard in a couple of days, but said he thought Ballard was feeling better and the fact he is thinking of retirement, "is news to me. There is no timetable to return and we're just being patient and hoping for the best for him. I think it would be too early to say this would be the end for him."
It’s an awful tale, but speaks to the seriousness of the head injuries and lends even more support to those who want increased pressure put on players and teams to follow concussion protocol. Ballard himself likely knows just how bad things can get, as in 2012, he missed two full months of action – 28 games total – due to headaches that wouldn’t go away. While he was never officially sidelined with a concussion, one could surmise that post-concussion syndrome is exactly what he was experiencing.
There hasn’t been an NHL player in quite some time that has had to end his career due to concussion issues. The last notable name, really, was Paul Kariya, who suffered several blows to the head, including the infamous playoff concussion which left him out cold on the ice before he came back in the same game, scoring a goal in a 5-2 win. Chris Pronger had one serious head injury end his playing days. The same goes for Ian Laperriere. And just this past summer, Albin Blomqvist of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes retired due to head injuries. Blomqvist was only 20.
Ballard’s latest head injury came on a hit from Matt Martin, which resulted in the 32-year-old defenseman’s head smashing into the ice. Ballard suffered facial fractures and a concussion that has left him watching for nearly a month.
Ballard has played in over 600 games, registered 38 goals and 175 points. He was part of Vancouver’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010-11, and had some great individual moments. He has earned well over $20 million throughout his career and has an NCAA education he can fall back on.
One would have to hope that Ballard does take a long, hard look at what he has accomplished and how successful his career has been. And maybe he’ll decide that it’s just no longer worth his health. Watching him be helped off the ice following the Martin hit was terrifying, and nothing about his movements showed someone who was in a good spot. We sincerely hope he can recover, and when he does, we hope he stays healthy for a good, long time.