How has Cam Ward answered his critics?
By playing his best hockey in half a decade.
Several fans and analysts (present company included) scratched their heads when the Carolina Hurricanes opted to re-sign their No. 1 goaltender in the summer they finally crawled out from under his massive $37.8 million contract.
Now on a two-year, $6.6 million deal — one that carries less trade protection — Ward is a major reason Carolina will take a four-game winning streak into Toronto Tuesday night.
“When we looked at the options that were out there, we felt this was the best option for our team,” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis told Hockey Central at Noon of his decision to bring back Ward.
“We didn’t have to give up picks or prospects to get somebody else. We had a guy that wanted to be there and was excited to be there.”
By comparison, James Reimer (the highest-profile UFA goaltender of 2016) and Brian Elliott (the highest-profile traded goalie of the off-season) have both posted sub-.900 save percentages this season.
Ward’s .916 save percentage is his best in five years, and that includes a disastrous season opener in which he gave up four unanswered goals and lost to the Winnipeg Jets 5-4 in overtime.
Over a month later, Francis recounted in detail how that Oct. 13 game fell apart defensively.
“In fairness to Cam, there wasn’t a lot he could do in a lot of those goals against,” said Francis. The GM noted how important it was to see Ward remain in Raleigh all summer to train.
“Great to see him playing well.”
Ward, 32, has been incredible in November, earning standings points in seven of his eight starts. On the heels of his first 4-0-0 run (1.01 GAA, .964 save percentage, one shutout) since February 2015, Ward was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week.
Considering the struggles of backup Eddie Lack (.856 save percentage), who gets about a quarter of the Hurricanes starts, and the fact the Hurricanes are still operating a below-average offence, Ward’s strong play must continue if the young team is to remain relevant deep into the season.
“It’s a fun group. It’s an exciting group. There is a lot of potential in this locker room,” Ward told reporters after another win Sunday. “It’s great to see us putting it together.”
Ward’s win streak should be tested heavily Tuesday at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs (7-2-0 at home) rank second overall in shots per game (32.9).