Despite his spectacular reel of highlight saves over the years, Cam Ward’s play has been inconsistent. The Alberta native’s erratic play has had Carolina Hurricanes fans on the edges of their seats one minute and shaking their heads the next.
In 2007, after his Stanley Cup performance winning the Conn Smythe as a rookie, Ward signed a three-year deal then was locked up for six more years with a $37.8 million contract in 2009. However, Ward never managed to reach the expectations the organization and fans set for him. Is he really the franchise goaltender?
Injuries can Change a man
Ward is now the only player to remain on the roster since the Hurricanes won the Cup in ’06. He and Eric Staal were the only players on the Hurricanes roster who spent time with the Lowell Lock Monsters during the 2004-05 season lockout. As logic sees it, he’s the closest thing to a franchise goalie the Canes have ever seen.
At 32, the questions involve his health and if he’s capable of being the number one goaltender. Both Ward and Eddie Lack are signed through the 2017-18 season.
In the 2013-14 season, Ward was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, allowing Anton Khudobin to take the starting position. Prior to Bill Peters arriving during the 2014-15 season, many believed Khudobin would be the no. 1 goaltender going forward.
Those injuries, though, taught Ward about taking better care of his body. He is in better shape now than he was when he suited up in the ‘06 playoffs.
Despite several injuries this season—a concussion that placed him on IR, a lower body injury, and another undisclosed ailment that made him day-to-day, it was one of the more impressive seasons Ward has had since the 2008-09 season.
In 52 games he recorded a 2.41 save percentage and a .909 goals against average. His numbers similarly reflected those of the prior season, but he appeared more confident in the crease. However, the team still managed to have the second worst save percentage in the league.
Does Longevity Matter?
Like Eric Staal, Ward has called the Triangle home for ten years. He was presumably not going to return to the franchise as a free agent. Ward outlasted Staal, which could mean one of several things. The goalie market isn’t necessarily ideal for the Hurricanes to let ward walk or Ward’s value is higher than Staal’s. Staal’s play for years has been on the decline and although Ward’s play has been spotty, he’s never shown consistent signs of slowing down.
What is most likely the case is Ward has the opportunity to prove himself again as the no 1 goaltender of the franchise. But he’s not getting younger. His two-year contract serves as a placeholder to possibly outlast Lack and make way for prospect goaltender, Alex Nedeljkovic. The London Free Press dubbed Nedeljkovic the “OHL’s most consistently outstanding goaltender.”
To his credit, Ward didn’t have the team he needed in front of him for many years. However, despite all of that, the Hurricanes team has always played with a higher level of confidence when Ward is mending the pipes.
Just because he has outlasted the other goalies of the franchise doesn’t necessarily make him the franchise goalie. I love hotdogs, but if I were to eat hot dogs every day for the rest of my life it would get pretty old.
Ward still serves a significant value for not only the franchise’s history but also moving forward, at least for a couple of years. He gives the younger goaltenders a veteran guy to learn from. He still has the ability to entertain fans by making spectacular saves. Ward also has that leadership presence in the locker room. However, his best days are behind him.
Matt Krombach is a current Electronic Media/Broadcasting student at Appalachian State University. He has covered the Carolina Hurricanes for CanesCountry.com since September 2013, writes for App State’s newspaper the Appalachian, and works for Appalachian State’s student-run WASU Radio. In the summer of 2016 he was an intern for the David Glenn Show, the largest sports talk show in North Carolina.