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Past Fantasy Outlooks
Ward was thrust back into the starter’s role for the Hurricanes last season after the team lost confidence in Eddie Lack’s ability to take over as the team’s No. 1 netminder. As a result, Ward wound up starting 61 games (compared to 52 and 51 respectively, the previous two seasons), and put up a mediocre 26-22-12 record along with a 2.69 GAA and .905 save percentage. Now with just one season remaining on his two-year, $6.6 million contract extension, Ward figures to see no more than timeshare duties this season after the Hurricanes acquired Scott Darling from the Blackhawks in late April. Darling posted a solid 18-5-5 record for Chicago last season, proving he could handle the starting role for a stretch in place of the injured Corey Crawford. The Hurricanes are looking to get better (and younger) between the pipes this season, which likely means a backup role for Ward as Darling looks set to take over the reins.
After much speculation that his decade-long tenure with the Canes had come to an end at the end of last season, the team decided to bring Ward back for one more kick at the can by signing him to a two-year contract extension in June. The hockey-pundit consensus heading into the 2015-16 season was that Ward would experience a strong challenge by Eddie Lack for the No. 1 role, but that didn’t come to fruition; Lack underwhelmed, while the bosses in Carolina weren’t keen on letting Ward and his $6.3 million cap hit warm the bench. On the plus side, Ward has bested his career GAA of 2.70 in two consecutive seasons, suggesting that he still has some gas left in the tank. However, since the ‘Canes don’t promise to be much better this season, Ward should be considered a lower-tier fantasy goalie.
Ward had an unremarkable 2014-15 on a bad Hurricanes squad, finishing with a 22-24-5 record. The 31-year-old did manage to record his best save percentage (.910) in three years and the top GAA (2.40) of his 10-season NHL career, but even those numbers weren't particularly close to the top of the league leaderboard. In addition, Ward still yielded plenty of starts to Anton Khudobin, finishing with appearances in 51 of the Canes' 82 games. Khudobin has since been traded to the Ducks, but Ward will now have to battle with newcomer Eddie Lack for the No. 1 gig during the upcoming season. Based solely on numbers, it wouldn't be a surprise if Ward ceded the job to Lack, who posted a terrific .921 save percentage with Vancouver in 2014-15 and has more youth and upside in his corner. Even in a best-case scenario, expect Ward to split time with the former Canuck to open 2015-16, but if the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner can find some consistency, he could eventually claim the regular gig for good.
Ward started just 28 games for the Hurricanes in 2013-14, recording a 10-12-6 record, 3.06 GAA and .898 save percentage. For the second consecutive season, Ward missed large chunks of time to an assortment of injuries, and was actually supplanted by Anton Khudobin, who wound up posting excellent numbers on his way to becoming the team’s de facto No. 1 starter, leaving Ward on the outside looking in. By the end of the season, Ward’s name became the subject of several trade and buyout rumors, however at this point it does appear that Ward will remain with the team, and barring the unexpected, will likely open the season in at least a time-share with Khudobin for the starter’s gig. However, don’t be surprised if Ward is once again relegated to the backup role at some point as the season progresses.
Last season ended somewhat prematurely for Ward, as he wound up missing the last two months of the season with an MCL sprain. That said, he was not exactly at the top of his game at the time of the injury, as both his goals-against-average (2.84) and save percentage (.908) were inferior compared to his previous two seasons. Looking ahead, a presumably healthy Ward should be ready and able to bounce back as the 'Canes' top netminder once again. The only real knock against him is the caliber of team playing in front of him, as the 'Canes continue to be nothing more than an average team offensively, and below average defensively.
Finishing off 2011-2012 with a 30-23-13 record with 2.74 goals against average, Ward was, last year, more or less who he has been since taking over the Hurricanes' starting job in 2006. Ward's record last year was indicative of some spotty play by the veteran but also a reflection of the team in front of him, as evidenced by his 13 overtime and shootout losses. However, with Carolina bolstering their offensive attack in the offseason, Ward could benefit statistically from the puck spending less time in his zone in 2012-2013. Ward is all but guaranteed to start 65-plus games and can singlehandedly carry Carolina to wins if he's on a hot streak. The Hurricanes played strong hockey in the season's second half after adjust to new coach Kirk Muller. A full season of the type of hockey they played late last year could see Ward a relative value in most drafts. He's well worth a spot on your roster after the elite netminders have been snagged, just don't expect him to carry you in wins.
Ward was a busy man in 2010-11, as he led all NHL goalies with 74 starts and 4,317:35 minutes between the posts. Thanks to the enormous workload and a sparkling save percentage (.923), he was able to deny 2,191 shots, easily setting a new career high in the saves category. And despite the Hurricanes failing to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year, Ward posted a robust record of 37-26-10. Fantasy owners should feel safe using the former Conn Smythe trophy winner as a No. 1 option at the goalie position, even though he’s expected to be rested more often in the upcoming season with Brian Boucher now on board.
Ward endured a tumultuous season in which he was victimized by the injury bug. He sustained a nasty laceration to his left leg that forced him out of action for just over a month, followed by reoccurring back issues later in the season. However, the cut leg was a freak injury and Ward did not need back surgery, so we'll write off his 2009-10 season (and the dismal 18-23-5 record) as an aberration. Expect the 'Warden' to return to form, provided he can put the injuries behind him. Don't be surprised if he's available at a discount on draft day thanks to the missed time last season.
After Paul Maurice replaced Peter Laviolette in a midseason coaching change, Ward was given the green light for more starts between the pipes. The young goalie responded in lofty fashion by dialing in a franchise-best 39 wins, ranking third among NHL netminders in regular-season victories. Other than the wins, Ward is an attractive buy for your fantasy team because he has slashed his goals-against average in each successive year that he's been in the league: In 2005-06 he had a 3.66 GAA; 2.93 in 2006-07; 2.75 in 2007-08, and he completed his most recent season backstopping 68 games to average 2.44 goals against. Bottom line: He's confident and well ahead of his years, but it would be wise to monitor his recent back woes.
The good news is that Ward has the No. 1 goalie job in Raleigh. The bad news is that he holds it despite mediocre numbers, and that he's prone to a string of bad outings. The latter factor may give Michael Leighton the opportunity to steal the starter's job away from Ward with a few good performances. Please, please keep in mind that Ward has never yet put together a solid full season as an NHL netminder; we sense that he's still living off the magical run of games that led to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Tread very carefully.
Ward came perilously close on several ocasions last year to surrendering the #1 goalie job to John Grahame, but Grahame was unable to capitalize. The team clearly sees Ward as its goalie of the future, and the coaching staff will give him a solid chance to justify that billing. Make no mistake about it -- picking Ward is a risky venture, but it does have a solid upside if he plays well.
The starting goaltender's job is his to lose after the gift he gave the team in last year's playoffs. His regular season numbers were nothing special, but he turned it on in May and June. His teammates describe with awe his preternatural calm in the crease. Given the strength of the team he plays for, Ward should be among the top six goalies selected in most fantasy drafts.
After solid minor league performances, Ward starts the season as the team's #2 goalie, behind Martin Gerber. If Gerber stumbles or is injured, expect the team to give the kid a shot, especially later in the season if the team is out of the running for the playoffs. Ward has a bright future with Carolina; the question is how distant that future is.