Joel Ward is set to hit free agency in a less than impressive 2015 class and will undoubtedly receive significant offers. First-year Capitals’ GM Brian MacLellan needs to prioritize his free agents, both unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents. However, Joel Ward should be low on the list and is, according to MacLellan.
According to Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post, MacLellan holds the contracts of Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt as most critical. Joel Ward, Jay Beagle and Eric Fehr all are UFA’s and could get multi-year deals in the summer from other teams because of their experience and recent success in the playoffs. Washington would be wise to move on from them, especially fourth lines such as Fehr and Beagle because they are easily replaceable and there are internal options available.
“I think we can get reasonable contracts on all of them, and then we’ll make decisions based on where the cap ends up and what amount of money we have left over after that, and how we want to invest it” – Brian MacLellan via Washington Post
Ward scored 19 goals and totaled 34 points in this past season after recording a career high 24 goals and 25 assists in his 49 point 2013-14 campaign. He’s played in every regular season contest the past two seasons and his durability is not a question. But, his future contributions are and the Capitals have better options, both in free agency and internally.
Ward turns 35 in December and will be on the wrong side of his career quite soon. There aren’t a host of options available in free agency for the Capitals, but there are a few. Right wing is a not a huge positional need for the Capitals moving forward. Washington has internal options such as Tom Wilson, Troy Brouwer and potentially rookies Riley Barber and Stanislav Galiev if they develop.
Washington hasn’t had a substantially productive forward on their team the past few seasons. Winger Jason Chimera has been productive for his contract, but Ward will receive a much more lucrative deal. In fact, the Washington Capitals haven’t had a forward 35 years or older score more than 20 goals in a season since Mike Knuble (38) totaled 24 goals in the 2010-11 season.
“Washington is his first choice over going to unrestricted free agency. We would like to re-sign with Washington and come back. Our door is open for the Capitals, absolutely first and foremost.” – Joel Ward’s Agent, Peter Cooney via Washington Post
Ward was productive on the four-year pact he received from former Caps’ GM George McPhee after his time with the Nashville Predators. Cooney also stated that the Capitals are a good fit for Ward because of how close they are to being a competitor.
“It’s a team that has a chance to win it all. Washington’s a hell of a fit for Joel”, Cooney said.
Joel Ward’s Free Agent Competition
Martin St. Louis: Still playing for the New York Rangers in the postseason, the longtime Tampa Bay Lightning forward is set to become a free agent after about a year and a half in the Big Apple. He’s one of the most famous undrafted successes to ever play the game and will be likely be targeting the final contract of his career. St. Louis finished the regular season with 21 goals and 52 points after tallying 30 goals (29 with Tampa Bay) last season with the Lightning and Rangers. The Capitals will have likely no interest in St. Louis
Justin Williams: Another experienced veteran like St. Louis, Williams, a key playoff performer, could leave the Los Angeles Kings due to the team’s salary cup crunch. The 33-year-old winger totaled 41 points last season in L.A. and has recorded at least 40 points per season in four of the last five years. He’s totaled 78 points in 115 career playoff games and his playoff pedigree will certainly be a factor in whatever free agent deal he signs.
Drew Stafford: The former Buffalo Sabres winger was dealt to Winnipeg during the season and contributed 19 points in 26 games for the Jets after a tough start on a mediocre team in Buffalo. He started in the offensive zone just 29% of the time and posted a 41.2 corsi-for percentage, according to puckalytics.com.
It will be intriguing to see what contract Ward receives in free agency and if MacLellan and the Capitals show any interest of significance. Brian MacLellan needs to keep Washington’s core together first before looking to fill out their bottom six at the forward position. Signing his RFA’s prior to free agency opening would go a long way in etching an easier path this off-season for the Washington Capitals.