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End of season review: Joel Ward


End of season review: Joel Ward

Throughout the past few weeks, 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

Shoots: Right

Age: 34 [turns 35 Dec. 2]

Ht/Wt: 6-1, 226

Games: 82

Goals: 19

Assists: 15

Points: 34

Penalty minutes: 30

Plus-Minus: Minus-4

Average Ice Time: 16:51

Playoff games: 14

Goals: 3

Assists: 6

Points: 9

Penalty minutes: 2

Plus-Minus: Plus-1

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.  

[MORE CAPS: Would Sharp be a good fit on Caps' top line?] 

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Braden Holtby’s save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup wasn’t even nominated for an ESPY

Braden Holtby’s save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup wasn’t even nominated for an ESPY

On Wednesday night ESPN hosts their yearly sports award show, the ESPYs, to celebrate the best of the last 365 days in sport. 

One thing they will not be celebrating, or did not even consider celebrating, was Braden Holtby’s save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final

This year there were 16 plays nominated to be the “Best Play” and were seeded into a bracket. For the past month fans have been voting in each head-to-head matchup culminating in four pretty outstanding plays:

All of those plays can be viewed here

Three of those four were in a championship game, the other was a just a once in a lifetime play from a teenager. 

But the ESPYs are saying that there are 16 plays from this past year that were better than Holtby’s save… Can we really believe that? Everyone loves buzzer beaters, but they accounted for six of the 16 plays. One of them could have easily gotten bumped. 

And aside from the three listed above there were only two that were in the championship event for each sport. Holtby could have rounded it out for six.

We’re not saying that Holtby’s play was the best in the past year, or even in the top four. Heck, there should be no one that tops Ogunbowale’s incredible heroics. But arguably the best play in D.C. sports history not making the top-16 for best plays in a 365 day period? 

It must have been one heck of a sports year.  

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Key Caps questions: Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?


Key Caps questions: Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: At 33 years old, can Alex Ovechkin challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top-goalscorer?

Tarik: By scoring 49 goals last season, Alex Ovechkin didn’t just defy Father Time, he also did something historic: at 32 years old, the Caps’ captain became the oldest player to lead the league in scoring since Phil Esposito did it at 33 in 1974-75.

Which brings me to today’s question.

I see more reasons Ovechkin will challenge for a record eighth goal-scoring title rather than reasons he won't. (By the way, he’s currently tied with Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, who led the league in goals seven times).


  • No. 1—Ovechkin, who turns 33 on Sept. 17, has shown no signs of breaking down physically, despite logging some hard miles over the course of 13 seasons. And if you’re going to lead the league in goals, you’ve got to play, and play a lot. Last season, in fact, he averaged nearly two minutes MORE per game (20:09) than he did the previous year.
  • No. 2—Something tells me that now Ovi has done a keg stand from the Stanley Cup, he’s more determined than ever to take another swig next summer. I don’t have any stats to back up this bullet point. It’s just a hunch from someone who’s covered a lot of his career.
  • No. 3—From an Xs and Os standpoint, not much is expected to change in 2018-19. His line will be centered by Evgeny Kuznetsov. If things go stale, new head coach Todd Reirden will have the ace-up-the-sleeve option of reuniting Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom. Meanwhile, the power play—where No. 8 does so much of his damage—will have the same structure and pieces.

To me, the only thing that could prevent Ovechkin from challenging Patrik Laine, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid and Co. for another goal scoring title will be complacency. And I just don’t foresee that being an issue.

Ovechkin has an opportunity to help the Caps make up for some lost time. But there’s no way they’ll be contenders if their best player isn’t at, or near, the top of the league in goals once again.

And he knows it.

JJ: Ovechkin has shown people throughout his incredible career that you should never doubt him. He only scored 32 and 38 goals in 2010-2012. Think he's not going to reach 50 again? Well, he did it three times. Think Ovechkin's 33-goal season in 2016-17 shows he's on the decline? Well, he just led the NHL in goals for the seventh time in his career. Think Ovechkin can't lead his team to a Stanley Cup? Well, we all know how that turned out.

Ovechkin was challenged at the end of the 2016-17 season by Brian MacLellan who noted Ovechkin would have to change the way he trained in order to keep up with the quicker NHL. He took those words to heart and showed up for training camp a little earlier and little lighter than usual.

After his day with the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin sent it off with the words, "See you next year." He knows what it takes to be successful and he will be extra motivated to once again come into camp ready for a big season.

Having said all of that, Father Time will always be undefeated.

As Tarik noted above, the 32-year-old Ovechkin was the oldest player to lead the league in scoring since Esposito in 1974-75. It's hard to do. Plus, there are a lot of young players like Laine and McDavid who are only getting better. While they're hitting thier prime, Ovechkin is fighting a losing battle with time.

That does not mean I expect Ovechkin's production to fall off a cliff. I still think he can surpass 40 goals, but the league's offense is trending up with the league average for goals per game per team climbing all the way up to 2.97 last season. That's the highest it has been since 2005-06. I am of the opinion that the offense is going to continue trending upward and it is going to take more than 49 goals to win the Rocket Richard this year.

Can Ovechkin score 40+ goals this season? Absolutely. Can he score more than that? I'm not so sure.

The Great 8 will remain a great goal-scorer and the Capitals' best offensive weapon, but I do not foresee him earning his eighth Rocket Richard Trophy or even finishing in the top three among the league's goal scorers.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?