Cam Ward is still with the Carolina Hurricanes. Some might say it’s because he’s anchored in place by his $6.3 million salary cap hit and his no-trade clause, but GM Ron Francis said he’s going to be a goalie for the team this season.
Well, one of two goalies: Anton Khudobin is also with the Carolina Hurricanes, with a fresh 2-year deal and the momentum from last season, when he usurped Ward as the team’s starter, playing 36 games with a .926 save percentage and a 2.30 GAA.
That said, he’s still the new guy. Ward’s the one with the 461 games with the franchise since 2005; the one who has carried the team for stretches during that time; the one who has the Stanley Cup ring and the Conn Smythe that came with it.
So who is No. 1? Will there even be a No. 1?
“We still believe he can be an elite goalie in this league,” Francis said. “By the same token, Cam understands what he needs to do to get back to that level. He could have done one of two things in the offseason – either sit back and relax, or work twice as hard toward having a better year. From what I have heard, he chose to work hard.”
Ward said he has talked three or four times with new Canes coach Bill Peters. While in Calgary during the summer, he also had a chance to go on the ice three times with new goaltending coach David Marcoux, whom Ward first worked with during the 2004-2005 season – a lockout year in the NHL – while playing at Lowell in the American Hockey League.
“I think really highly of him and respect what he knows about the position and the way he can translate it to me,” Ward said of Marcoux.
Peters will ultimately be the one that decides who gets the majority of the starts in Raleigh this season, and he’s yet to tip his hand. But one gets the sense that with a new coach, the reset button has been pressed: Despite his accomplishments and his wages, Ward is going to have to win the job.
Can he do it?
Fragility aside – and Ward’s had enough freak injuries to earn him a nomination for the DiPietro Award – his numbers have been in sharp decline for the last three seasons. For example: There’s a stat called Goals Saved Above Average. It basically takes the shots faced and save percentage for a given goalie, and then applies the league average save percentage to the same number of shots faced. After four seasons in which Ward was above league average, he’s dipped down into negative territory in the last two seasons, including a minus-13.00 last season.
Khudobin, meanwhile, was a plus-12.72 in GSAA last season.
That’s just a snap shot. The overall picture will be hasn’t developed yet. What if Ward is finally healthy for a full campaign again? What if the decline in numbers coincided with a decline in happiness playing for Kirk Muller, with whom he didn’t get along?
At 30, Ward’s still young enough to turn this around. We’re not counting him out yet.