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."