Blackhawks

Blackhawks lock up backup goaltender with signing of Cam Ward

Blackhawks lock up backup goaltender with signing of Cam Ward

The Blackhawks secured their backup goaltender for next season by officially inking Cam Ward to a one-year deal on Sunday. It's reportedly worth $3 million and includes a full no-trade clause, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie.

It was the first signing of the day for the Blackhawks, which shows you just how much they prioritized that position this offseason.

"Cam was someone we talked to right away when the period opened up to interview players," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "A couple things. First off, he's obviously got the experience. That's an important factor with somebody that has a pedigree of winning and being able to handle that load if need be. Obviously we're not expecting him to have to carry the load for us. But we do think it's nice knowing that you have a goaltender in Cam that's played a lot of hockey.

"At this point in his career, he's still able to play quite a bit and I think it forms a really nice tandem between him and Corey [Crawford]. At the end of the day, I think you need to have two proven goaltenders if you want to have a realistic chance. We still have good depth at goaltending. Looking at all the teams that had success, you use 3-4 goalies a year.

"You can't just get by with one or two. We still have a lot of younger guys growing in that role. But with Cam, he brings some experience in the role, and I think as you get older sometimes your role changes from being a number one to being a 1A or a 2. Cam has shown the ability to transition into that and still be an effective goalie."

Ward is coming off a season in which he compiled a 23-14-4 record with a 2.73 goals against average, .906 save percentage and two shutouts in 43 appearances with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 34-year-old netminder has started at least 40 games in 10 of his 13 NHL seasons, so he's certainly capable of handling a heavy workload if needed. And with the uncertainty regarding Crawford — despite the team's consistent belief he'll be ready by training camp — it's not out of the question.

"I’m definitely going into it with the mindset that I’m there to support Corey," Ward said. "I think very highly of Corey as a goaltender. I look forward to meeting him and being a partner with him. Certainly, I’m in that support role that when called upon I will try to do the best I can to help contribute and get wins for the hockey club just like Corey will be doing at the same time.

"Looking forward to meeting everybody with the coaching staff and kind of get an idea but the sense is that I’m definitely there to be supportive of Corey and play when called upon."

Ward hasn't played in the postseason since 2009, but did win a Stanley Cup with Carolina as a rookie in 2006 and won the Conn Smythe. 

His underlying numbers haven't been great towards the latter stages of his career, though.

Over the last five seasons, Ward's goals saved above average — a metric that measures goals allowed below the expectation based on shot danger faced — at even strength is minus-40.73, according to corsicahockey.com. That ranks dead last out of the 165 eligible goaltenders during that span.

Sure, there may have been better options on the market. But Carter Hutton is heading to Buffalo to become a starter and is getting paid like it (three years, $2.75 per year). Jonathan Bernier has higher upside, but he battled three separate injuries over the final two months of last season, one of which was a concussion, so there's too much risk there for a Blackhawks team that can't afford to go through that kind of situation again at the goaltending position.

And if there was real concern about Crawford's health, the Blackhawks likely would've signed somebody for more than a year. This tells us they merely want to make sure their backup is capable of starting 30 games or so and can give the Blackhawks a chance to win on Crawford's off days.

In a limited role and less pressure to perform on a starter-type contract, Ward could be a decent fit for the Blackhawks while Collin Delia and Anton Forsberg continue to develop in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs.

"I think you learn a lot," Ward said. "In our position a lot of it has to do with the mentality of the position and to be able to deal with the highs and lows. And certainly when I look throughout my career there has been just that, a lot of highs and a lot of lows. So there isn’t much that I haven’t experienced. You learn from it and you challenge yourself. I think I’m better because of it. It’s helped mold the goaltender and the person that I am today. 

"The bottom line is you play to win hockey games and that’s going to be my focus and doing everything I can to help win hockey games for the Blackhawks. You have to realize that there are going to be nights that are going to be pretty and there are nights that it’s not going to be pretty. But did you win the game? That’s what matters the most to me."

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

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USA TODAY

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.