Just Have Fun

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Earlier today, the Chicago Blackhawks announced that they had agreed to terms with goaltender Cam Ward on a one year contract. This agreement between the Blackhawks and Ward marks the end of the goalie’s 13 year tenure between the pipes for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes drafted Ward 25th overall in 2002, and he played his entire NHL career with the organization until today. In 2006, the Ward was an integral piece to the Canes team that would go on a historic run through the playoffs, and win a Stanley Cup Championship. Ward was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs. From 2006 on, Ward remained the go-to guy between the pipes for the Canes. In 2009 Cam appeared in 68 games for the Hurricanes and posted a .916 SV% and a 2.44 GAA in the regular season before helping the Canes go on their cinderella run through the 2009 playoffs in which they were bested by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. In 2010, Ward represented the Hurricanes in the NHL All-Star Game alongside teammates Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. In 2015, Cam Ward appeared in his 500th NHL game, and two years later in 2017 he secured his 300th career win. In 13 seasons in Carolina, Cam appeared in 668 games with a record of 318-244-84, a SV% of .909, and a GAA of 2.70. He holds the franchise record for Wins (318), Shutouts (27), and Saves (17,261 on 18,989 shots against).

As the Canes wait for the emergence of Scott Darling as a true NHL starter, and patiently await the completed development of prospects Alex Nedeljkovic and Callum Booth, it is without a doubt that Cam Ward is the best goalie the franchise has ever put between the pipes. That is not to say that Cam’s tenure was without its rough patches with below league average play, but it cannot be argued that Cam Ward was not a stellar netminder in his prime.

While many all of us appreciate the bittersweet news of Cam’s departure, many Caniacs believe this day should have come a lot sooner. I, for one, have been openly critical of Cam’s play for the last 2-3 seasons. The 34 year old is passed his glory days, and is no longer a capable starting goalie in the NHL. This does not mean that he will not serve as a capable back up to Corey Crawford in Chicago, but it has long since been time for the Canes to pass the torch. Darling and Ward split starting duties in 2018 with Ward starting 42 games and Darling starting 40. Now that Ward is out of the picture, the door has been opened for Darling to step up and be the reliable starting goalie that the Canes have needed for many years now.

DISCLAIMER: Before I go any further, none of what I am about to write is intended to ridicule or bash Cam Ward. It is simply a reiteration of facts and statistics that show his play regressed in his final seasons in Carolina.

Many people became increasingly critical of Ward’s play after the 2011 season. After posting a .923 SV% in 2011, Cam never had a season save percentage above .915% during the remainder of his time in Carolina. After 2012 he never had a save percentage better than .910%. He arguably reached his lowest point in an injury-riddled 2014 season in which he finished the year with a .898SV%.

As I stated previously, I have been quite critical of Cam Ward in the last few seasons, and I believe the criticism is warranted. Cam was not posting league average stats, and despite the Canes persistence is starting him, he was not a Number 1 goalie in the NHL. However, I believe Cam deserves to be pardoned for his play from 2011-2014. As many of you know, I believe that the average NHL goalie is only as good as the team in front of him (this obviously excludes the elites of the profession such as Lundqvist, Luongo, and Fleury). From 2011 to 2014, Cam Ward had, without a doubt, the worst Hurricanes teams in franchise history in front of him. The team was plagued with replacement level forwards and an AHL-level at best defensive corps. Not to mention, the Canes lost their best defenseman, Joni Pitkanen, to a career ending injury. Cam Ward, an average, reliable NHL starting goaltender, could only do so much. Stop and think about who was playing for the Canes back then. Brett Bellemore, Jay Harrison, Jamie McBain, Derek Josilin, Bobby Sanguinetti, Michal Jordan, Riley Nash, Nathan Gerbe, Zach Boychuck, Tim Brent, Zac Dalpe, Andreas Nodl, Chris Terry, and Patrick Dwyer. I could go on, but I think I’ve gotten my point across. Of those 14 former Hurricanes, only one still plays in the National Hockey League: Riley Nash, a third line center, at best. The rest of the forwards and all of the defensemen are either retired, in the AHL, or in Europe/the KHL. Could Cam Ward have elevated that group of guys to the playoffs? Could any goalie? I don’t think so.

After 2014, things started to turn around for the Canes. They added defensemen like Andrej Sekera, John-Michael Liles, and Ron Hainsey. Justin Faulk began to emerge as a top 4 defenseman. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce came out of nowhere and became a top paring two-way D and a top 4 shutdown D respectively. All of a sudden the team has offensive talent in Skinner, Aho, and Teravainen. The prospect pool is getting deeper and more exciting. The only thing that is going wrong is that Cam Ward is getting older. That was his only fault. Just like his former captain, Eric Staal, the team wasted what could’ve been his best years by surrounding him with awful teammates. Eventually, as the team got better, Cam got worse due to age.

Did Cam play bad from 2011-2014? Yeah kinda. Was it his fault? No. Did Cam play bad from 2014-2018? Yes, without a doubt. Was it his fault? Not really. He was an older goalie who was passed his prime, that was being forced into a starting role by a franchise who refused to accept reality and find a new starting goaltender. Cam Ward would be revered by all Caniacs if the franchise would have found a new starting goalie and moved Cam to a back-up role years ago. He would not have had to play 60 games a season, he would have been able to rest, and his play would not have faltered as much as it did. Ward’s lack of success late in his tenure as a Hurricane was no fault of his own, it was the fault of the organization that poorly managed him (and the rest of the team for that matter).

Before closing this out, I’d like to share the thing about Cam that had the biggest impact on my life. We all are aware of the struggles Cam went through with his son’s health, the poor performance of the team, and his own play. I remember a FS-CR interview done by John and Tripp where Cam explained how he just had to learn to have fun again. Every game he would write “have fun” with a smiley face on his stick as a reminder of what playing hockey was all about (If you zoom in on the feature image of the article, you can see it above the tape on his stick). I’m not a professional hockey player, but Cam’s motto of “just hav[ing] fun” helped me find the good in my own life, and helped me find joy in life again despite whatever circumstances life threw at me.

With all of that being said, I would like to personally express my sincerest gratitude to one of the best role models a young man could have asked for growing up. Cam Ward the man is an excellent human being (Read his Player’s Tribune article if you need further conviction). He was there for the highest of highs for the organization, and endured the dark times without ever wanting to wear another team’s jersey. Despite struggles in his personal life, Cam Ward suited up and gave the Hurricanes his all for 13 years. Thank you, Cam for being part of the reason why a 7 year old boy could watch his favorite team celebrate a Stanley Cup Championship. Thank you for being such a great role model and person during your time in Carolina. I wish you all the best in Chicago, and I hope you stop every puck thrown at you, except when you play the Hurricanes.

Put #30 in rafters in PNC Arena where it belongs.

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