After years of waiting, Carolina Hurricane fans could finally breathe a sigh of relief as Cam Ward’s contract came to an end this offseason. A long time ago, Ward was considered to be a future star of the NHL and, only a few years after backstopping the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup in 2006, was paid quite handsomely. Signing a massive six-year, $37.8 million contract to remain with Carolina, the Hurricanes expected Ward to be one of the best goalies in the NHL and hopefully lead them back to another cup.
Ward’s first season as one of the highest paid goalies in the league actually went very well, finishing to be the best season of his career. In 74 games, Ward won 37 of them and posted a .923 save percentage, good for sixth in the NHL. Not to mention, he also led the league in saves and minutes played.
However, after the one brief season of success, Ward started to struggle and regressed. What was once a .923 save percentage became a .915 save percentage and then a .908 and then a .898. Barely justifying his monstrous cap hit, Ward only slightly rebounded to a tune of a .910 save percentage over the past two seasons.
And yet, even though Ward has only had one regular season where he’s maintained a save percentage over .920, he managed to find himself with a brand new contract this year. The Hurricanes were generous enough to resign him and hand Ward a two-year, $6.6 million contract.
Ward’s new deal may only be for two years but there is almost no way to justify this new contract. Ward is barely an NHL caliber goalie and yet he’s now the 26th highest paid goalie. With Ward making more money than extremely talented goalies like Martin Jones, Brian Elliott, and Jake Allen, it’s hard to understand why the Hurricanes would want to give out this contract.
When talking about Ward, most of the conversation is about the past. He won a cup with the Hurricanes about 10 years ago but that’s about all he’s done. In his past 10 years, Ward has only held a save percentage above the league average four times and only had a save percentage above .920 once.
|Games Played||Wins||GAA||Save Percentage||Average Save %|
What’s even more concerning is that in his last four seasons, Ward hasn’t even had a save percentage higher than .910. While that’s not nearly as bad as is his catastrophic 2013-14 season where he finished with an .898 save percentage, Ward can’t even hit the league average.
Over the past two seasons, the average save percentage in the NHL was .915. Last year, Ward had the 48th best save percentage in the entire NHL with only a .909 through 52 games. That’s barely backup level goaltending and, for any team hoping to compete, definitely not starting goaltender material.
Ward has been trending down for a while now and there doesn’t seem to be much hope in a rebound. Over the past four seasons, Ward’s numbers have hovered around or below the .910 mark and that’s probably what we should expect from him going forward.
If his numbers weren’t bad enough, Ward is already over 32 years old. While goalies generally age better than forwards and defensemen, Ward isn’t young anymore. His best years are behind him and it’s likely we saw him peak from 2008-11. If we should expect anything from Ward, his numbers are likely to get worse than get better. As he gets older, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his save percentage take a hit.
Ward’s return to Carolina also blocks up-and-comer Eddie Lack from getting more starts and time in the crease. Lack was acquired by the Hurricanes from the Vancouver Canucks about a year ago and was expected to take over the crease from Ward. However, almost the opposite happened.
In his first season in a Hurricane uniform, Lack only got into 34 games of NHL action. Compare that to Ward’s 52 games and you see who the clear starting goalie was. With Ward back in the Hurricane’s net for the next two years, it’s likely that Ward takes plenty of starts away from Lack and maybe even retains the starting position.
Granted, Lack did struggle last season, as he only managed a meager .901 save percentage, but there’s debate that this was caused by him not see enough consistent playing time.
Eddie Lack, Dec.26-Mar.26
9-7-4, 2.35, 0.921
What happened before/after that? Ward gobbled up his starts/disrupted the flow.
— Dobber (@DobberHockey) June 17, 2016
Lack was a valuable goalie prospect in the Canucks’ organization and showed lots of promise. In the minors, Lack has proved his skill by posting exceptional numbers and there’s reason to believe Lack could be a quality goalie in the NHL.
In his last season in Vancouver in the 2014-15 season, Lack recorded an impressive .921 save percentage through 41 games. In the season before that, Lack posted a slightly worse .912 save percentage in his rookie season but still maintained better numbers than Ward.
The situation is a little similar to the Schneider-Brodeur goaltending battle that happened in New Jersey a few years ago. While Schneider was much better and younger than Brodeur, the Devils retained Brodeur and kept giving him starts. Brodeur was declining and even though his play worsened, he still took starts away from Schneider. A similar thing could develop in Carolina with Lack eager to start in more games next season. If Carolina wants a starting goalie, their best bet is to take a chance with Lack. Ward returning could negatively effect Lack and cause him to lose starts.
Better and Cheaper Options
Even though Ward is barely a top 50 goalie in the league now, he is the 26th highest paid goalie in the league. Carolina doesn’t necessarily need the cap space that Ward’s contract takes up but they could have used the extra money elsewhere. Carolina usually doesn’t spend to the cap hit so Ward’s high salary won’t be too detrimental but that money could have been allocated to more pressing issues.
There are plenty of different goalies the Hurricanes could have signed for probably less than $1 million and still get the same value that Ward provides. Anton Khudobin, Jhonas Enroth and Chad Johnson would have all been great value signings for Carolina and would have probably given them a similar performance. And if Carolina wanted to spend over a million dollars for a goalie, they could have tried to sign any one of James Reimer, Karri Ramo, or Al Montoya.
While we know that what kind of goalie Ward is, Reimer, Ramo and even Enroth have the potential to become solid starting goalies. Montoya, Johnson and Khudobin have all shown flashes of brilliance over the past few seasons and would be worth signing by any team looking for a quality backup goalie.
With plenty of goalies available, it’s hard to explain why the Hurricanes would want to sign Ward to a two-year deal worth about $3.3 million per year. Ward is clearly not worth that kind of money and his presence is likely to stunt Eddie Lack’s growth. At $3.3 million, Carolina overpaid for one of the most overrated goalies in the league and will likely be stuck with him for the next two years.