Anyone covering the Carolina Hurricanes can attest to the fact that there has been no hotter question amongst fans than “When is Cam Ward returning?”
The answer has been foggy until head coach Kirk Muller answered it for everyone, confirming Ward would start Monday night against the Boston Bruins. This ends a 10-game stretch on injured reserve for the starting goaltender. Some point to Ward’s injury as the lynchpin causing the spat of bad luck in Carolina’s horrific month-long losing streak.
This is in the past, as the Hurricanes have been on a 4-5-1 push in their last 10 outings, including wins over the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks. There’s no one player to point to for this streak; rather, the entire team has remembered that they are in fact a professional hockey team and it’s time to play like one.
Where does Ward fall into these plans? Simply, he is a huge question mark. Having yet to play a complete season since before the NHL lockout, it’s nearly impossible to project his performance for any imaginable stretch of time without prefacing it with “should he remain healthy…”
This is not the portrait of reliability needed for a team in transition like Carolina. Justin Peters has stepped in and given a surprising performance and making a very real case for Anton Khudobin‘s spot in the lineup to be in jeopardy. Granted, it’s an absurd case and will never happen, but the mere fact that it’s being thrown around by anyone is a testament to Peters’ clutch performance.
Nobody can question the fact that Ward is an amazing goaltender. His acrobatics and calm demeanor do a good job of justifying the $6.6 million he takes home each season. When healthy, Ward earns every dime of that.
There’s that caveat again — “when healthy.” Muller’s decision to start Ward against Boston is just a no-brainer. The team will learn absolutely nothing about his condition with him riding the bench, watching Peters do what he’s supposed to be doing. Putting out a $6.6 million paperweight is dumber than putting money on a three-legged race horse. Ward belongs in net and he belongs there as much as possible.
Keeping Ward healthy is job no. 1. It is incumbent upon Carolina goaltending coach Greg Stefan to teach Ward how to do his butterfly without ripping a tendon. Carolina simply cannot afford to send him back to injured reserve again and not begin throwing the word “trade” in that general direction.