Joel Ward says he had it good in his four seasons as a member of the Capitals. He had grown accustomed to his “simple drive” into Arlington for practices, his favorite barber, and a place to drop off his dry cleaning.
But even Ward would admit there is something special about living in San Jose.
“Let me tell you, it’s pretty chill,” Ward said Tuesday after participating in the Sharks’ morning skate at Verizon Center, where he’ll face his former teammates tonight (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN).
“It’s laid back, good weather, of course, and there’s so much fun to do around there. There’s wine country; there’s beaches; there’s snow not too far; there’s food. Whatever you want to do.”
But there are sacrifices that come along with being a Northern Californian.
“Ten a.m. Ravens games are pretty tough,” he said with a laugh.
After four seasons and four different coaches in Washington, Ward, 34, said he hoped to finish his career with the Caps under Barry Trotz. But when the Caps would not meet his request for a deal lasting at least three seasons he knew it would be time to move on.
“The writing was on the wall a little bit,” Ward said. “After the season I initially thought I’d be back right away. But as the summer dwindled down I kind of figured it wasn’t going that way. I wrapped my head around that and understood that I had to move on.”
In the week-long interview period prior to the NHL’s July 1 free agency, Ward spoke with new Sharks coach Peter DeBoer and the two quickly agreed the Sharks would be a perfect fit. Days later Ward signed a three-year deal worth $9.85 million.
“I felt he was the perfect complement for what was ailing our group,” DeBoer said of the Sharks, a veteran team that missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years last spring.
“He’s a fantastic penalty killer and 5-on-5 he’s willing to go to dirty areas and do dirty work on the defensive side of the puck. Those were all the boxes I wanted checked for what we needed to improve on and it was all in one package with one guy. He was right at the top of our list.”
In two games with the Sharks, both victories, Ward has played on a second line with left wing Patrick Marleau and center Logan Couture, while also seeing time on the Sharks’ power play and penalty killing units. He has two assists in those games.
Ward said the Sharks remind him of the Capitals of a year ago -- a team that replaced its coach after a disappointing season that ended out of the playoffs.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Ward said. “We missed the playoffs in D.C., made a couple changes and next thing you know we’re one goal away from going on (to the conference finals). This team has a similar makeup, guys are hungry to get after it. The coach has been really good with laying the foundation and I’m pretty impressed with the work ethic.”
Ward said his only regret in his four seasons with the Capitals is getting them deeper in the post-season.
“We had a good run and we came up short a couple times,” he said. “It was definitely tough to know you came pretty close, but it’s a business as well and we understand that.”
As for the “lovefest” Trotz said Ward will face tonight against Jason Chimera and the rest of his former teammates, Ward smiled and said. “We’ll be laughing the whole time. I’m sure I’ll see Chimmer afterwards. There are quite a few guys that I have a lot of fond memories with over the years. But the game’s so fast you can’t crack too many jokes out there.”