Joel Ward signed on with the Sharks prior to the 2015-16 season and since then has scored 68 points in 143 games. That’s a rate of 0.48 points per game, which is a career high for Ward, who tallied 0.43 points per game in Nashville and 0.44 points per game in Washington. And yet. And yet.
This season he’s tallying 0.39 points per game at the ripe age of 36 years old. Kinda weird no one talks about Ward’s age when putting into context how effective an NHL player he is, huh? Or how physical a game he plays or how hard he continues to work down low when considering how tough the journey was to get to 660 games played.
Yeah. Super weird.
Way back when Ward was scratched not because he wasn’t scoring (but because he wasn’t scoring, in this writer’s opinion) the consensus seemed to be the forward wasn’t affecting the game enough. Here’s what DeBoer said:
“It’s a good lesson for guys who maybe haven’t scored in a while, to get there.”
“There,” being the dirty areas, a place Ward has made a career of going to. If you take a peek at where Ward’s shots come from you’ll get a sense of the kind of player he is. From corsica.hockey, here’s a heatmap:
That’s a lot of shots from right in the scoring area. It’s the kind of niche Ward has carved out for himself since dragging himself into the NHL through the Canadian Collegiate ranks as an undrafted free agent. You know his story, which makes any insinuations about his work ethic all the more unpalatable.
And frankly, they’re unnecessary because Ward has been effective for the Sharks this season. He’s sixth on the team in scoring and is scoring 1.48 points per 60 minutes. That’s right in the range of where a third-line player should be scoring. Check out the image from SportsNet that provides scoring ranges for each line; it’s not an exact science, but this is a good rule of thumb, anyway. (Shout out to Twitter pal @kikkerlaika for the help)
If anything, criticism of Ward is born from unwieldy expectations. And it’s not as if his salary of $3.275 million a year is breaking the bank, either. If Ward was playing on the fourth line because the Sharks were skating three definitively better lines, that would be one thing, but I’m not convinced Melker Karlsson is that guy.
Karlsson has 19 points in 59 games (0.32 points per game) and that has come with a similarly mixed bag of competition and teammate ice time. He’s proven to be a solid player on the fourth line, particularly when paired with Chris Tierney, but I don’t see a compelling reason to promote him over Ward to the third line.
Regardless, Ward has done everything the Sharks have asked of him in the first two years of his deal. Despite his age he’s consistently produced in a third-line role. That’s all they need him to do.