Joel Ward

Ward injury asks more questions of Sharks fourth line looking for answers

ward-ap.jpg
AP

Ward injury asks more questions of Sharks fourth line looking for answers

UPDATE (11:15 AM): Joel Ward's now day-to-day with a shoulder injury, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters at Saturday's morning skate.  Ward initially feared he separated his shoulder.

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The Sharks lost another veteran leader to injury on Thursday, and will be without him for the foreseeable future. 

Joel Ward suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of Thursday’s loss to the Golden Knights, and like injured teammate Joe Thornton, he’s out indefinitely, head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters on Friday. Ward seemed to injure his right shoulder when Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt hit him from behind while both players went after a loose puck along the boards midway through the second period, and he did not return. 

It’s clear that age has caught up to the 37-year-old winger, as he’s scored a career-low 0.24 points per game this season. But his absence leaves San Jose’s fourth line, which was already in need of answers, with even more questions. 

DeBoer’s cycled numerous players at the bottom of the lineup, giving looks to any combination of Ward, oft-scratched Jannik Hansen, young forwards Marcus Sorensen, Danny O’Regan, Barclay Goodrow, and the now-departed Ryan Carpenter. Since O’Regan’s call-up earlier this month, he’s had some success with the rookie, Goodrow, and Ward. 

In a hair over 23-and-a-half five-on-five minutes together, the trio has out-attempted their opponents, (56.76 corsi-for percentage), outshot opponents (68.18 shots-for percentage), and also outscored opponents two-to-one, according to Natural Stat Trick. The puck possession edge came primarily from a dominant effort against Carolina on Super Bowl Sunday, but those are still encouraging early returns for a line that’s looked for an identity all season. 

The search continues Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers, with Hansen set to slide in to Ward’s spot. Hansen’s played in just three games since the calendar flipped to 2018, and only about five minutes alongside O’Regan and Goodrow together.

He’s played with Goodrow and O’Regan individually, seeing far more of the puck with Goodrow (57.89 corsi-for percentage together) than with O’Regan (31.25 percent). This will be their first real look as a trio, and it comes at a critical juncture. 

With Thornton out, the scoring burden is spread throughout the rest of the lineup, and it’s even more important that the Sharks are able to ice a capable fourth line. Plus, the trade deadline is just 16 days away, and San Jose rumored to be looking for help on the fourth line prior to Ward’s injury. 

Goodrow’s largely been a fixture, but there should be a real sense of urgency for his linemates. O’Regan’s appeared overmatched at times, and could find himself back in the AHL if the Sharks make a move. Hansen, meanwhile, is a pending unrestricted free agent, and could find himself out of the organization entirely if San Jose decides to look elsewhere for help. 

Saturday’s not necessarily a last chance, but it may be the beginning of one. 

Sharks winger Joel Ward uses custom Air Jordan shoes to propose

ward-ap.jpg
AP

Sharks winger Joel Ward uses custom Air Jordan shoes to propose

Everyone has their own special way of asking the big question, "Will you marry me?"

Sharks winger Joel Ward stepped his shoe game up in one of the most unique proposals we've seen. 

Christmas came early for Ward and his now fiancée. Ward used a custom pair of Air Jordan shoes to pop the question. Shoe artist "Ecentrik Artisty" showed off the shoes Sunday morning on Twitter. 

Ward had "Will You" painted on the right shoe and "Marry Me?" on the left. Check these out: 

Sharks winger Joel Ward is Father Time's latest victim

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USATSI

Sharks winger Joel Ward is Father Time's latest victim

When the Sharks signed Joel Ward early in the free agency period of 2015, the third and final year of that deal loomed large. Ward was 34 at the time, closer to the end of his career than his prime, and that extra year seemed risky. 

That risk has been apparent this season, as Ward was scratched in five consecutive games in October. He remained a regular over the next 25, but will reportedly be scratched Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks. 

Ward’s mired in an epic slump. He has just two points, both assists, in his last 11 games, and has not scored a goal since the day before Thanksgiving. 

His struggles aren’t just a product of misfortune, as it appears that age is finally catching up to him. 

You wouldn’t necessarily get that impression looking at the back of his hockey card. Yes, he’s on pace for his lowest points per game since 2011-12, when he scored a career-low six goals and scored on just 7.6 percent of his shots. But, Ward’s still scored slightly more goals per game (0.15) than he did last year (0.13).

What does not bode well is that, if anything, his scoring totals are a bit inflated. Ward’s converted on an astronomical 21.1 percent of his shots this season, and only has four goals in 27 games. 

His five-on-five shot rate (3.45 shots per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey), shot attempt rate (8.19 per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (5.18 per 60) are the worst of his career. The shot rate and unblocked shot attempt rate are particularly worrisome, as he’s declined in both areas each of the last two seasons.

That’s all to say that, once his shooting percentage regresses to the mean, Ward is likely to struggle even more offensively since he isn’t generating as many chances. Given that he won’t play against the Canucks, the Sharks seem at least somewhat aware of this fact. 

Ward’s decline is completely understandable given his age, and was an understood risk when the Sharks signed him to a three-year deal. He was remarkably productive in his first season in teal, scoring 43 points as a 35-year-old, but hasn’t been the same player as he’s gotten older. 

But even as his decline is apparent, Ward will likely still have a role to play on this team, if only out of necessity. He has a modified no-trade clause, and likely isn’t going anywhere unless he agrees to waive it and the Sharks retain some salary. 

He remains a valuable veteran voice in the locker room, and should still be relied upon for his leadership. The Sharks, though, may not be able to count on much more than that, and should not have expected otherwise.