When General Manager George McPhee signed former Nashville Predators forward Joel Ward to a four year-12 million dollar contract many questioned giving a long term deal to a player who had never averaged half a point a game per season. The Capitals had just recently fallen to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and McPhee looked to add players who had sufficient experience postseason experience to go farther in the postseason under head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Ward struggled in his first season with the Capitals, accumulating a career worst 29 points in a full NHL season, netting only six goals on the year. His shooting percentage was 7.6%, far below his 10.7% career average shooting clip which provides a reason for his lack of production in his first year with a new club. Where the New York, Ontario native made his mark was in the spotlight at TD Garden in Boston, sending the Capitals to the second round of the Eastern Conference players. He potted a backhander past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas in overtime, a goal that would mean a lot to his future with Washington. The now 33 year old winger had a much better sophomore season with the Capitals, playing in 39 games in last year’s lockout shortened season, where he contributed eight goals and 12 assists, including his first power play goal with Washington. He’s followed that up with his best season as a pro in his third year with the club, totaling 37 points and setting career highs in goals (18), power play goals (5) and points in 67 regular season games. Below are some reasons why Ward’s evelated his game and a look back at some players that signed similar deals to Ward and how they have worked out up to this point.
Even Strength Success
A substantial part of Ward’s success has been during five-on-five play. He’s second on the Capitals of all forwards that have played over 750 minutes during even strength, averaging 1.76 points per sixty minutes. Only Jason Chimera has a higher points per 60 minutes average, at 1.84. Chimera has played a big role in Ward’s success which will be discussed later in this post.
According to Sporting Charts, Ward’s average shot distance is 26.6 feet and 43 of his 108 shots on goal during even strength play have been wrist shots. His other shot types and totals are slap shots (16), snap shots (19), tip-ins (13) and backhand shots (14).
Power Play Ability
Something that wasn’t utilized as much in Nashville as it has in the nation’s capital is Ward’s skill on the man advantage. Defined as a defensive forward prototype with the Predators at the onset of his pro career, Ward has developed into a player that can play in all three situations, including ability to play on the power play and penalty kill. Ward averages 12:30 of even strength ice time per game, along with 1:47 on the PP and 1:52 on the PK per contest. He plays on the Capitals second power play unit, now with forwards Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson and rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ward almost always occupies the slot on Washington’s power play setup, looking for a feed from the half wall on the regular from elite passer Marcus Johansson on the Capitals’ man advantage. Along with his quick shot from the slot, Ward is able to go to the net for dirty goals and can tip a few pucks in from the point on the power play depending on where he’s lined up in Adam Oates’ format.
Ward has spent the majority of the season on the Capitals’ third forward line, playing with Jason Chimera for a large portion of the season. Eric Fehr is Washington’s current third line center, once again showing Adam Oates tendency to try predominately based wingers at the center position. Below is a table of Ward’s numbers with and without his top line mates on the ice this season.
|Linemate||TOI Together||Shots With||CF % With||CF% Without|
Chimera brings elite speed to Washington’s third line which enables Ward to gain openings around the net and in the slot. Fehr brings a solid two-way game like Ward, giving the Capitals a better opportunity at clear rushes through the neutral zone on the rush, especially near both blue lines where defensemen pinch in and forwards support.
|Player||Age||Start of Deal||Years||Cap Hit (in millions)||Points/Game This Season|
After all is said and done, the four year pact with Ward was a steal of a contract by McPhee to this point. He’s found a reliable third line player who can play in all three zones, along with having an impact on younger players. Ward has brought another dimension to Washington’s second power play unit, giving them one of the top man advantage units in the NHL. With one year remaining on his deal at a three million dollar cap hit, Ward was one of the best gets in free agency when McPhee signed him and should still be able to produce effectively at his age 34 season.
Matthew Speck covers the Washington Capitals organization for The Hockey Writers. He provides coverage of both Washington at the NHL level and prospect related content. Matthew also covers local sports for the Lebanon Daily News in Central Pennsylvania. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.