Throughout the past few weeks, CSNWashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley has been evaluating the 2014-15 performance of each player on the Caps roster. One breakdown has occurred every day in alphabetical order. Today: Joel Ward
Position: Right Wing
Age: 34 [turns 35 Dec. 2]
Ht/Wt: 6-1, 226
Penalty minutes: 30
Average Ice Time: 16:51
Playoff games: 14
Penalty minutes: 2
Average Ice Time: 19:02
Contract Status: UFA [2014-15 salary: $3 million; cap hit: $3 million]
Strengths: Among the Capitals forwards, only Nicklas Backstrom [302:21] and Alex Ovechkin [279:20] logged more playoff ice time than Ward [266:40]. Ward responded by matching Ovechkin’s team-high point total of nine in 14 playoff games. Ward was effective along the wall, in the corners and in front of the net, where he became an immovable object in front of goaltenders Jaro Halak of the Islanders and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. Whether it was on the top line with Backstrom and Ovechkin or on a third line with Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich or Jason Chimera, Ward was a productive and dependable forward who worked well with Chimera on the penalty kill. Ward finished third among Caps forwards in shorthanded ice time [1:39 per game] and was fifth [1:31]. He also finished fifth among forwards with 38 blocked shots and was a likable steadying force in the locker room.
Room for improvement: Speed has never been one of Ward’s greatest assets and now that he’s halfway to 35 he likely won’t get any faster. Ward makes up for his lack of speed with excellent defensive positioning and rarely find himself on the wrong side of the puck. Ward was good enough to log time on the power play and managed six of his 19 goals on the man-advantage, but he could be better at firing one-timers from the slot while on the power play.
Memorable Moment: There was some role reversal going on at the end of Game 1 against the Rangers, when Ward gave the Capitals a 2-1 win with a goal with 1.2 seconds remaining in regulation at Madison Square Garden. Nicklas Backstrom checked the puck off defenseman Dan Boyle with a big hit in the corner, and Alex Ovechkin morphed into Wayne Gretzky with an across-the-body pass from behind the net that had Henrik Lundqvist leaning the wrong way. Ward whacked in the centering pass to give the Caps the early lead in the series. “That,” Ward said, “was probably as loud as I’ve screamed.”
Quotable: “It’s where you fit in and what’s your role again. There are guys coming up, there’s no secret. Obviously, you’d like to keep everybody, it was a really good group. But it doesn’t work out like that. Where you fit in and where they see you is a big component because as an athlete and a competitor you want to play and you want to make the most of your opportunity. I want to be part of the program here. It’s on the right track, for sure.” - Ward on breakup day
2015-16 Expectations: Ward’s agent, Peter Cooney, said the Capitals are Ward’s first option when it comes to signing a free-agent contract on or after July 1. But if the Caps decide to trade for a top-line right wing it will be difficult for them to bring back Ward, especially if the club keeps Troy Brouwer and sees Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson moving up in the lineup. Ward is believed to be seeking at least three years and without a lot of NHL mileage, he’s likely to get that term on the open market. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is likely seeking a two-year deal for Ward and would be hesitant to give him more than $3 million a season. For those reasons, Ward is likely to spend the remainder of his NHL career in another NHL city.
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