There was a time when Cam Ward was the Carolina Hurricanes.
His 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that ultimately sent Martin Gerber packing is what solidified his place as the anchor of the franchise. If not for Ward and captain Eric Staal, the team would be playing to an empty arena. That’s not haterade, that’s fact.
Ward — at one time — was a magnificent clutch goaltender. His acrobatic saves were often exactly what would save a game or even a series for the Hurricanes. After his season ending injury last year, Ward just hasn’t been right. He’s been able to put together some flashes of brilliance this season, but once someone has the courage to assert “the old Ward is back” he makes them look stupid.
Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers shouldn’t be the last straw, but it should make everyone in the Hurricanes coaching staff and front office take a really big step back. Ward’s performance in that game is emblematic of the Russian Roulette that is putting him in the lineup on any given night. Will he show up and play or will he give up soft goals?
While becoming wholly unreliable, there’s still no reason to trade him. That’s going to have to just be understood by everyone in the room. When Ward is on his game he’s on it and is awe-inspiring. That’s only when he’s on his game. The nights he’s off are a train wreck, ultimately costing the Hurricanes games. To analyze Ward’s statistics is somewhat futile because there’s no quantification of “clutch performance” versus just regular ice time. Looking at his saves percentage, shots faced, GAA — none of it sums up the one and only problem of inconsistency.
Carolina has two really great goaltenders behind Ward. Anton Khudobin is nearly recovered from his lower body injury and before that was challenging for the starting spot. Of course there’s the free radical that is Justin Peters. Peters honestly has no business in the NHL, but nobody bothered to tell him that. After his call up from the AHL, Peters had some adjustment games, but then stepped up to the plate big time. With Khudobin as a viable option and Peters solid, what to do with Ward is a conundrum.
Khudobin still has some time left before his return, which is a great opportunity to swap goalies and let Ward back up Peters for a change. This can hurt nothing, will put a little fear into Ward’s heart, and allow Carolina’s confidence from the previous week to return. Frankly with Ward as the starter, there’s no telling who will come out of that tunnel on any night.
Ward needs to stay in Carolina, but it’s safe to say his glory days are well behind him and the sun has set on his phenom status.