The San Jose Sharks were active in retooling their roster for a playoff run last summer, and Joel Ward may prove to be the team’s most significant offseason addition.
Goaltender Martin Jones has been strong in his first year as a starter and veteran defenseman Paul Martin has helped solidify what may now be considered one of the league’s deepest defense corps, but Ward has had a monumental impact on the Sharks this season. The 35-year-old winger quietly potted 21 goals (three of which were game-winners) in 79 games, surpassing the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career. Ward registered 43 points in total, falling just shy of the career-high 49 points he tallied as a member of the Washington Capitals in 2013-14.
A Valuable Ingredient
Ward provides what has been missing in San Jose for years: secondary scoring. The Sharks have long boasted elite offensive talent with the likes of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau in the fold, but have lacked skilled depth players capable of contributing offensively when the big guns aren’t firing. Ward addresses that issue and then some.
His presence has allowed a declining Marleau to slide down to the third line, where the career-Shark has resumed playing center following years on the wing. It’s a role Marleau is nicely suited for at this stage of his career, as his speed and two-way play remain valuable components to the club. How many teams can say they have a seven-time 30-goal scorer centering their third line? San Jose can thanks in large part to the addition of Ward.
Playing on the second line with Logan Couture and rookie Joonas Donskoi, Ward’s size and board play has helped create space and scoring chances for his highly-skilled linemates. He brings a rare combination of ingredients to the ice, making his presence felt even when he doesn’t find the scoresheet. That trio has enjoyed tremendous success this season; Ward finished the year with 1.70 points-per-60 at even strength, Donskoi with 1.73 and Couture with 1.81.
Built for the Playoffs
Ward plays a brand of hockey that is essential to postseason success. He’s big, he’s physical, he goes to the dirty areas and he can grind it out with the best of them. Against a team like the Los Angeles Kings, that style of play is exactly what’s needed. Ward’s versatility and ability to make an impact both on the power play (1.52 goals-per-60 with the man advantage) and the penalty kill (ranked fourth among Sharks forwards in shorthanded ice time) are the proverbial cherries on top.
Not to be overlooked are Ward’s playoff numbers. In 53 career postseason games, the forward has 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points. His overtime tally in Game 7 of the first round of the 2012 playoffs propelled Washington over the Boston Bruins. Last season, Ward registered 9 points in 14 contests while logging just two penalty minutes. Back in 2011, in the second playoff campaign of his career, he managed 13 points in 12 games, including seven goals.
While opponents key in on shutting down Thornton and Pavelski, and try to contain star blueliner Brent Burns, Ward may prove to be the x-factor for the Sharks this postseason. He’s a playoff warrior whose role in San Jose’s bounce-back year should not be overlooked.
Sam Kelly is an experienced sports writer with a passion for the game of hockey. He currently covers the San Jose Sharks for The Hockey Writers and is a production assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. He’ll never forgive the Sharks for blowing a three-game series lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.