When the Sharks signed Ward they were given a little bit of a side eye as many around the league were unsure about the signing of a 34 year old winger to a three year deal. Ward doesn't play a finesse brand of hockey, he will get in your face and won't back down and those players don't last long in this league. The risk versus the reward didn't seem to add up. Has Ward lived up to his contract?
In short, yes, but his season has been an interesting case. Ward continues to shine but is he doing this all on his own or has he been the passenger? This season has already been one of the best for Ward as he has 31 points in 46 games. This puts him on pace for a 50-60 point season that would easily surpass any year he has had before. Any metric you want to measure Ward by, he is easily smashing apart his career bests. In all situations he is having his best year in p/60, CF% and TOI; this shows to me that Ward is working efficiently in the ice time he is given thus prompting some time on the power play.
Dissecting Ward's play further, I want to take a look at his power play numbers and see if he is reaping the benefits given to him. This is easily the most TOI he has had on the power play since he has come into the league nearly doubling all previous seasons in per game metrics including p/60. His best years on the power play have him scoring 10 points over the course of an entire season but at this point in the season with the Sharks, Ward has eight points. He will easily break his previous scoring record on the power play if everything holds steady. That is the question though, is what Ward doing sustainable?
His power play shooting percentage alone is the lowest it has been since the 09-10 season which means that Ward isn't playing lights out but playing a game that dictates the amount of points he is putting up. He is putting pucks on net and his continued work as a net front presence has shown that he is a beneficial part of this team.
While at even strength Ward has had a high shooting percentage at nearly 15%, but he has had seasons before in the double digits that haven't put him anywhere near this point pace. When seeing a number like that you may expect for Ward to also have a high PDO suggesting that maybe his play and his teammates play may come back down to earth. He is currently sitting at 99.5%, a completely manageable rate as some numbers start to normalize.
The money invested into Ward may have been head scratching but when using @MannyElk's similarity score on Ward's season, he compares very well to players around his age. Mike Fisher's 14-15 season is a strong comparable and Fisher is making around 4.2 million, a full million more than Ward. Another strong comparable is Drew Stafford in his 14-15 season who made 4 million that season. Anyway you slice it, Ward is outproducing his contract at the moment.
Relative to his teammates though Ward is lacking, his Corsi at even strength is only tenths away from breaking even but may still be reason for pause. Even more concerning may be his Scoring Chance percentage relative to his teammates is a full percentage point below them. Mind you both of his numbers are well over the threshold of 50%, but it could be just that this Sharks team is just so darn good that someone has to be below the team average. You will have that with a team that employs elite players like Thornton, Burns and Pavelski.
Ward's season is being eclipsed by many others on his team but I think for now that is just fine. Ward is the type of player that fills in when you least expect it. The term clutch is cliche and also kind of dumb but it may be an apt description of Ward. He is oftentimes forgotten yet performs when needed, his supplemental scoring is a boon for the Sharks during regular season play, but as many Sharks fans know they need that same output this postseason.
(All stats courtesy of War On Ice)