Just so ya'll know, I'm writing this before the NHL draft. Started it Thursday, probably going to finish it Friday while I'm (erhem) at work. (UPDATE: finished it on Sunday)
Point is, if this comes out after the draft, it might not make a whole lot of sense. Joel Ward is a role player, a piece on a good team. The Sharks could pull a move in the next few days that make this post irrelevant, but I'm writing it nonetheless. I like Joel Ward, and I'm hoping after I write this post, you do too. (UPDATE: Wilson didn't do anything)
Ward isn't going to wow anyone with his offense, and that's probably the reason it took him three pro seasons to sniff some regular NHL playing time. However, in 79 games this season, Ward put up some solid numbers on an uncharacteristically weak Nashville squad. Ward posted 17 goals and 35 points on the season. Two of the goals were shorties, and two were game winners. Not bad for a guy who was on an offensively challenged team, where only 3 players scored 20 goals or more.
I'm not looking towards Ward for scoring, though. There are others you can sign if you are looking to improve your top two lines. I'm looking at Ward because he's the type of guy who can help improve your bottom lines and special teams. Although many disgruntled Sharks fans are angry at the big six for their lack of, well, anything during the playoffs... they weren't the only problem. The bottom two lines not only didn't score (Cheechoo had the lone point amongst them), but they were also ineffective on defense. Ward might not be the biggest offensive improvement, but he's got exactly what I'm looking for in a third or fourth line guy: Grit, hustle, solid defense, some scoring pop, good size and speed.
Although his 6'2" 205 pound frame puts him 10 pounds lighter than Moen, Ward plays big (and occasionally reckless). He's a good skater and has decent hands for a sandpaper guy. But most importantly, he's got a chip on his shoulder. After his long journey to the NHL, Ward plays as if he has something to prove... and that's what the Sharks need.
He's also a fantastic penalty killer. Of players who played at least two minutes a game for Nashville on the penalty kill, Ward has some crazily impressive numbers. Per 60 minutes on the kill with Ward on the ice, 3.69 goals were scored against the Predators. Take him off the ice, and that number skyrockets to 6.15. Only Ward's kill partner, Jerred Smithson, had a bigger spread between the two values (3.60 GAON, 6.18 GAOFF), but it's a negligible difference. For the record, of all Sharks players, only Pavelski had a higher GAOFF (6.23). However, no Shark had a lower GAON, as Pavelski's team low is 4.38. Moen's team high is a (scream!, however, this counts his time with ANA) 7.75.
No, Ward's never won a Stanley Cup. He can't tell you how to get to the promised land or mentor your young players. But there aren't many who look like they want to get there more than Ward does. Over the last few seasons, Doug Wilson has been big on signing guys who have Stanley Cup rings. Although I do agree that is necessary to have experience, that strategy doesn't always work. Occasionally, players who have won the Cup become complacent, as they've already reached the top of the mountain. Do they really want to climb it again?
I think we need a few players with a bit more fire.
Joel Ward is a guy that can bring fire. All observers see that he does what it takes to win. He's not the one guy who is going to help us get over the hump, but I think it's a tweak that gets us closer. How much is he looking for?
Preds losing several key players?
Greg Zanon, Joel Ward and Vern Fiddler are all unrestricted free agents, and Predators GM David Poile doesn't sound too optimistic about signing them, the Tennessean reports.
Ward is asking for three times what he made this year -- $1.5 million -- and Zanon can likely be replaced from inside the organization, Poile said.
Also, Poile added that keeping Steve Sullivan isn't a given, but he sounded more optimistic about locking up the Masterton Trophy winner.
If we let Grier go, and Roenick comes back for less, then Ward will fit in quite nicely. Anywhere from $1.25MM - $1.5MM, and I'm a happy camper.