It's hard to think of a player on the Hurricanes who has seen a bigger heel turn than goaltender Cam Ward. After playing such a big role in the team's Stanley Cup victory in 2005-06, every Caniac has sung Ward's praises for years and it usually didn't matter how good or bad he played. He has been the Hurricanes starting goaltender for nearly a decade and has earned the reputation of being a "workhorse" goalie for playing so many games every year was considered one of the most "reliable" netminders in the league for quite some time. Even when he was injured last year, most considered him the Hurricanes "MVP" because of how their season fell apart once he went on the shelf.
Now, most of those praises have gone away and all the talk you hear about Ward is how the team "needs" to trade him. Ward has spent most of the last calendar year injured and when healthy, he hasn't been close to playing at his best level. Say what you will about Ward being overrated or overpaid, but an .893 save percentage is nowhere close to what the Hurricanes expect of him. That ranks him third to last among goaltenders in the league with at least 15 games played, ahead of only Devan Dubnyk, Kevin Poulin and Anders Lindback. Ward has usually gotten a mulligan in past years because the Hurricanes defense has often been very bad, but even in those years, Ward has put up much better numbers than this and if you are getting paid like he is, you have to bail out your defense every once and awhile. Ward clearly hasn't done much of that this season.
So, the question currently surrounding the Hurricanes is what are they going to do with their goaltending situation. Anton Khudobin and Justin Peters have both done a tremendous job filling in for Ward and have given this team the best goaltending they've seen in years, but they are still left with three goalies on the roster and the one with the lowest save percentage has the biggest contract. Some might suggest trading Ward but one can only imagine how low his value is right now, especially with his contract looking more like an albatross with every game.
In a normal year, Khudobin's performance is exactly what the Canes needed because Ward has lacked a suitable back-up for years but with Ward not being himself and the Hurricanes needing wins, Khudobin is likely going to get more starts from here on out, increasing his value and decreasing Ward's. This could change if Khudobin falls into a rut, but this is the current predicament the Hurricanes are facing and it's tough to decide what they should do about it.
This team needs Ward to play well to be successful, but with Khudobin (and Peters to a lesser extent) both giving the Canes solid goaltending on cheap contracts, it makes you wonder how much the Canes need to be spending on the goaltending position. However, this also takes us back to how much the fan's perception about Ward has changed so much over the years.
When Jim Rutherford gave him that six-year, $37.8 mil. contract in 2009, no one had any problem with it. After all, Ward helped this team win a Cup, was entering the prime of his career and just had his best season as an NHL-er. This looked like a no-brainer at the time but goaltender performance is often very unpredictable and a big contract like this can easily look terrible if his performance declines or runs into injury problems. In the case of Ward, he's seen his share of both and it's put the Hurricanes in a very tough situation.
Again, there are a lot who would argue that Ward has never been a $6 mil. goalie, but what he has done over the last year is nowhere near what is expected of him. There's plenty of things you can point to as the root cause of his struggles.no comments