Cam a cornerstone for Canes
Posted September 30, 2009
Locking up Cam Ward is a great move for Carolina. The Hurricanes signed their 25-year-old goaltender to a six-year deal on Wednesday, paying Ward $37.8 million. The 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is now under contract with the Canes through the 2015-16 season.
With the signing of Ward, the Canes have their two best players inked for the next six years. Ward and Eric Staal were already the clear foundation of this team, but now it is official for the foreseeable future. General manager Jim Rutherford can build around these two top-tier NHL players each year. No matter how many question marks the Canes encounter in a given off-season, Rutherford can always rely on a premier goaltender and goal-scorer on his roster.
Not only did the Canes make a wise move signing Ward to a long-term contract, they were smart to do it prior to this season. Ward would have been a restricted free agent after the 2009-10 campaign, so Carolina would have had the rights to match any offer. But, Ward’s market value could have soared with another year of sound net-minding like the one he experienced last season.
Ward’s 2008-09 season was stellar. The man they call "Wardo" set career best marks in wins, shutouts, goals-against average, and save percentage. His 39 victories set a new Hurricanes franchise record, and his six shutouts tied a franchise best. Only two NHL goalies won more games than Ward last year, while seven teams had more wins than Carolina.
Another season like that one, and Ward would have been the highest sought after free agent of the upcoming off-season, short of Ilya Kovalchuk. A ‘small-market’ team like the Canes wouldn’t be able to compete with offers from Detroit and other big spenders. Any long-term contract is a risk in professional sports. But the Hurricanes made a very intelligent, calculated risk with the signing of Cam Ward.
The fifth-year goalie has been lauded as a natural talent since capturing the Stanley Cup in his rookie year. The knock on Ward in the seasons following 2006 was that he didn’t perform at a high level as consistently as other top-tier goalies.
He answered those consistency concerns last year. Ward started a career-high 28 consecutive games before sitting out the final game of the 2008-09 season. His record during that stretch? A sparkling 19-7-2, with three shutouts and a 2.30 goals-against average. In addition to the impressive streak of starts, Ward also set a franchise record for consecutive wins with nine victories from March 18th to April 7th 2009.
In January of 2009, Ward’s detractors were in full throat as he dropped five straight decisions. While a playoff MVP proves his prowess in the crease, many fans and media alike continued to question his ability to play at a high level for an extended period. Ward responded to that rough patch by winning five of his next seven starts, leading the Hurricanes’ surge back into the playoff race.
The new six-year extension is a win-win for the Carolina Hurricanes. The front office knows they have a reliable goalie for seasons to come, the players can count on a top-tier guy defending their net on a yearly basis, and the Caniacs will be thrilled to keep on cheering on a young player who hasn’t stopped improving, despite reaching hockey heights so early in his career.