Under Pressure: Cam Ward

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This is part of Hurricanes day on PHT…

Cam Ward’s career with the Carolina Hurricanes has been an interesting one to say the least.  

After signing a two-year, $6.6 million contract extension with the team over the summer, he is getting ready to enter his 12th season with the team. Even though he is now the franchise record holder in wins, shutouts and games played by a goalie, it would still not be unfair to say that his career with the team probably hit its peak when he was a 21-year-old rookie.

It was during that postseason, after appearing in just 28 regular season games, that he went on an incredible two-month hot-streak that helped lead the Hurricanes to their first and only Stanley Cup championship.

In the decade that has followed he has never really come close to matching that performance, but has managed to remain with the franchise — and for the most part keep his starting job — and is now the longest-tenured member of the team. Loyalty and familiarity can be a good thing, but only if the performance is there to back it up and justify it. In recent years the performance has not always been there for Ward.

The Hurricanes finished last season 19th in the NHL in goals against even though they were a top-10 possession team (for the second year in a row) and one of the best teams in the league when it came to preventing shots on goal (and total shot attempts) with one of the youngest blue lines in the NHL. The biggest thing that held them back was the performance of their two goalies, Ward and Eddie Lack, as they finished with the second worst save percentage in the NHL (.902). A league average goaltending performance on the same number of shots on goal shaves around 20 goals off of that total. That could make a huge difference in the standings. 

Ward himself has been in the bottom third of the league among goalies for a few years now, sitting 49th with a .910 save percentage out of the 74 goalies that appeared in at least 50 NHL games since the start of the 2011-12 season.

Even though Ward ended up taking a pay cut to remain with the Hurricanes, probably one of the few spots where he would have had an opportunity to get significant playing time, the pressure is going to be on for him to have a big season in net because his play could make or break their season.

If he remains at the same level he has been at over the past few years, which is in the bottom third of the league among goalies, he could not only see himself losing even more playing time to Lack, but also holding back a young and improving team.

But if he can just help give them an average or even slightly above average performance in net, it could easily get the Hurricanes closer to a playoff spot.