One can only speculate regarding how the Carolina Hurricanes’ front office actually feels about goalie Cam Ward, but they’re wisely pumping up the struggling netminder to the media. New GM Ron Francis even used the word “elite” while discussing Ward with the Raleigh News & Observer.
“We still believe he can be an elite goalie in this league,” Francis said. “By the same token, Cam understands what he needs to do to get back to that level. He could have done one of two things in the offseason – either sit back and relax, or work twice as hard toward having a better year. From what I have heard, he chose to work hard.”
When you combine injury concerns and his poor recent play, it’s debatable if Ward should even get a chance to create a 1A/1B situation with Anton Khudobin, so throwing the “elite” word around seems a bit rich.
Carolina seems to be leaning toward that aforementioned platoon scenario nonetheless. Considering his contract ($6.3 million cap hit through 2015-16, with a no-trade clause to make matters even worse) it’s difficult to imagine the Hurricanes finding a home for the 30-year-old goalie.
The one positive notion is that it’s hard to imagine Ward sinking any lower than he did last season, either; he put up 80’s-level numbers (.898 save percentage, 3.06 GAA) and finished with a 10-12-6 record in 2013-14. That’s atrocious, yet injuries are a decent excuse for Ward, and he’s saying the right things about working on his fitness level.
Ward’s comments could be chalked up to cliched offseason lip service, but note that his save percentage never dipped below .915 from 2008-09 to 2011-12, including an excellent 2010-11 campaign (37-26-10, .923 save percentage and 2.56 GAA). He’s shown the ability to be solid-to-strong, it’s just been a while.
Let’s not forget how erratic goalie production can be, at least beyond regular elites like Henrik Lundqvist. Many thought Steve Mason was another poor season away from NHL irrelevance, and now he’s the clear No. 1 in Philadelphia. Does that mean the odds are on Ward’s side? Maybe not, but stranger things have happened in this tough-to-predict position.