Photo credit: Susan Walsh
In the summer of 2011, the Washington Capitals gave Joel Ward a four-year, $12 million contract. The deal was largely based on Ward’s play over 12 games when Ward scored 13 points during Nashville’s run to the second round under Barry Trotz. In the regular season that year, Ward had scored just 10 goals. He was 31-years-old. Some of George McPhee‘s gambles didn’t work out, but this one did.
With the Caps, Ward earned his salary. After a disappointing first year and a lockout-shortened second campaign, Ward scored a combined 43 goals in the last two years of his deal, nearly doubling his career total.
And then there are the playoff performances for which the Capitals signed him. He beat the Bruins in overtime of game seven of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and scored again this year in game seven against the New York Islanders. Ward crashed the net and won game one of the latest Rangers series before tallying two key assists and a goal during Washington’s near-comeback in game six. Ward is one of the few players in the league that scores at the higher rate in the playoffs than the regular season. This postseason, he led the Capitals with 9 points.
Nevertheless, Ward is now 34-years-old. He has just finished the two most impressive seasons of his career. Goal scoring normally peaks for players in their early- to mid-20s, but Ward did not even play a full NHL season until he was 28, playing junior and college hockey before signing as an undrafted free agent.
“Joel’s had less mileage for a guy in his 30s because he started late,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He played Canadian university hockey. There’s a little bit to that, but as you get up in age I think there is a deterioration no matter how much mileage you have on you. Term’s going to be an issue going forward. If we can work in a good number and we feel that Joel can continue to play at the level he’s playing at, we’ll work it out.”
But as we all know, the Capitals have a number of players whose contracts expire this summer. They also have Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky, players MacLellan wants to have in the top-six. That could leave Ward, and his hefty cap hit, playing somewhere else.
“It’s been an unbelievable four years,” Ward said of his time in Washington. “There’s guys coming up. There’s no secrets.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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