Joel Ward signed a three-year $9.825 million deal with the San Jose Sharks Friday for an annual salary cap hit of $3.275 million.
The veteran right wing Ward, 34, was a crowd favorite for the Washington Capitals. Seen as a hardworking no-nonsense forward, he landed in the hearts of fans with his Game Seven-winning overtime goal against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2011-12.
Ward generates offense on any line from fourth all the way up to the top line – where he found himself late last season alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In Ward, the Sharks gain a utility player, a hard worker and a player with a colossal understanding of the game of hockey.
‘Hard-Nosed Brand of Hockey’
“Joel is a quality veteran player who can score but also plays an extremely hard-nosed brand of hockey,” said the Sharks’ general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “He meshes well with our core group of forwards and has a strong track record of playing his best hockey at crucial times of the season.”
Ward’s new head coach Peter DeBoer echoed their GM’s sentiment:
“Joel is an identity player in that he plays exactly the way I want our team to play. He’s big, strong, fast and hard to play against. That’s exactly what we are looking for.”
That description of Ward is right on the money – nobody wants to be on the business end of a hit from the 6’ 1” 220-pound winger. He doesn’t have a zinging slap shot or wrist shot, but he is not lacking in tenacity and he never gives up. His Game Seven overtime goal against the then-reigning Stanley Cup champion Bruins in April 2012 was an excellent illustration of the kind of goal Ward routinely scored for the Capitals – a scrappy ‘never give up’ effort from just outside the paint.
Ward began his NHL career quite late when, at aged 27, he started his first full season with the Nashville Predators in 2008-09 after appearing in 11 games the season before for the Minnesota Wild.
He joined the Washington Capitals in 2011 and was slow to maintain momentum in his first two seasons in the nation’s capital – recording only 14 goals. Ironically, the one season in the past eight that saw the Caps miss the playoffs was Ward’s best ever NHL term – in 2013-14, he scored a career-high 24 goals, a career-high 25 assists for 49 points – another career-best mark.
Last season was Ward’s best season for the Capitals even though his points dipped over the prior year. He was all over the ice for the Caps, often on the first line, and was a major factor in the Capitals’ run to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup semifinal series showdown against the New York Rangers.
Joel Ward’s Career to Date:
The San Jose Sharks will likely be Ward’s last NHL team. The West Coast has gained a strong, intelligent and unselfish forward. He should fit in well with the organization and will be a clutch player if the Sharks make a return to postseason hockey in 2016.