The agent for Capitals pending unrestricted free agent Joel Ward said Monday he has not had contract discussions with the Capitals since early February but is still hoping to strike a deal with the club before free agency begins on July 1.
“Joel would like to return to Washington,” Peter Cooney said. “That’s a definite yes with capital letters. However, if we do go to July 1 where he becomes an unrestricted free agent, the door to discuss him returning to Washington is wide open.
“We’d embrace the opportunity even after July 1 to making a deal to go back to Washington. The door doesn’t close just because it’s July 1. … The ball is in their court. We’d do a deal with Washington if the deal was right any time between now and then, or after then.”
Ward, 34, is coming off a strong season in which he recorded 19 goals and 15 assists in the regular season and followed up with three goals and six assists in the playoffs. His nine playoff points tied him with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead.
Ward signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Capitals in 2011 and could be seeking a three-year deal in the $10 million to $11 million range. Cooney said he believes Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is trying to get restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby under contract before reaching out to the team’s list of unrestricted free agents, which also includes Mike Green, Eric Fehr and Jay Beagle.
Holtby’s agent, David Kaye, said Monday he has had negotiations with the Capitals, but declined to discuss the progress of those talks or the term Holtby is seeking.
“All I can say is that we’ve had conversations with the Capitals,” Kaye said.
Cooney said he believes once Holtby and the Capitals come to terms, other contract negotiations will follow. The Caps also need to re-sign restricted free agents Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Nate Schmidt and Philipp Grubauer.
“I know they’ve got to do the goaltender first, at least that’s what the indicators show,” he said. “We know what we’re looking for, but I don’t know what their parameters are, except I did read that players that were UFAs may have to be below market value to come back to Washington.”
Cooney may have been referring to MacLellan’s remarks following the season when he told reporters, “I think it’s important for players to realize that we’ve had a successful team and if they believe we have a good chance moving forward to win a championship they recognize that going for max dollars, which [they] could make the choice to do in certain situations, it would hinder our ability to compete going forward.”
Cooney said three factors will determine where Ward signs this summer: the length of the contract, the value of the contract and the team’s ability to win during that contract term.
“Joel wants a team that brings the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup if things fall into place and obviously the coach is important and we know who the coach is in Washington,” Cooney said, referring to Barry Trotz, who also coached Ward in Nashville.
“So we would do a deal [with the Caps] without even going to unrestricted free agency if we had the right term and the right compensation, because Washington is a great spot for Joel. He loves it there. We think he can be a big piece to Washington’s drive to he Stanley Cup. Hopefully, that happens and hopefully, it’s next year.
“I know they can fit him under the cap for what we want. We want to be part of the current and future Caps and we’re determined to let Washington have every opportunity to sign him. If we end up gong to unrestricted free agency, we do. But that’s not our goal.”