For the first time in over 10 years, the future of the Carolina Hurricanes’ goaltending tandem could be without Cam Ward
Ward, the Canes’ 2002 first-round draft pick, is a pending unrestricted free agent. While other free-agents-to-be were moved at the trade deadline, Ward remained with the Hurricanes through the end of the season but what is ahead is more uncertain.
With that in mind, his final media scrum of the season on Tuesday was raw and emotional for the 32-year-old netminder. Was he cleaning out his stall at PNC Arena for the final time?
“I think eventually it will sink in, but I’m not ready to close that door. I’m remaining optimistic that hopefully something can happen,” he said. “I’ve made it clear that this is where I’d like to be. I’m proud to have been a Hurricane and been here for as many years as I’ve been.”
The Saskatoon, Sask., native along with his wife, Cody, and two children, Nolan and Nyla, have planted roots in Raleigh.
“I consider Raleigh my home. I’m very fortunate to have been here as long as I have been. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I see the direction the organization is going,” Ward said. “I’ve talked to my wife about that, how fortunate and lucky we are. You come across all these other players who, for the most part, have been elsewhere, and they can talk to you about their experiences on other teams, whether good or bad. That’s something I’ve never experienced and you tend to wonder what it could be like, but I’m comfortable here and would rather be here.”
Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis addressed the situation, one of the dominant team storylines heading into the offseason, in his press conference on Tuesday, as well.
“We’ll look at what Cam did and where he is with our organization,” Francis said. “We’ll look at what our options are if we go down the free agency route. We’ll continue to make phone calls to see what’s out there in possible trades. And then we have to make the decision that’s best for our organization moving forward.”
Ward has played the entirety of his 564-game, 11-year NHL career with the Hurricanes, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup in his rookie season. 2015-16 was the final season of a six-year extension he signed in September 2009. Starting in 52 games, the most since the 2011-12 season, Ward posted 23 wins, one shutout, a 2.41 goals-against average (the second-lowest of his career) and a .909 save percentage.
“To be honest, I had a lot of fun. I really enjoyed playing with this group. I know it’s a young group, and it almost made me feel young again,” Ward said. “Coming to these exit meetings is never an easy thing to try to explain what went wrong, but I think there’s a lot more positives coming out of this year and the direction this organization is going.”
Particularly impressive, Ward noted, was the play in front of him from three young, rookie defensemen.
“I can’t say enough about them. The fact that you had three rookies step in and play the roles they played, that’s not normal,” he said. “What impressed me the most about them was their maturity, not only on the ice but off the ice, too. That’s how you know those kids are for real. They’ll be big parts of this organization for a long time, and I had fun playing with them.”
What will follow in the next two-and-a-half months remains to be seen. Eddie Lack is under contract for two more seasons. Will Cam Ward be back to join him? Will the Canes take a dip into the free agent pool? Will the team make another draft-day splash for a goaltender?
“I want Cam to be back,” Eddie Lack said. “I feel like we had a really good relationship together, and we were starting to build something very good here.”
“I think it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, let’s turn the page and move forward.’ But what if it doesn’t make us better?” Francis pondered. “We have to do our due diligence and make sure that we’re making the decision that makes the organization better. That may be signing Cam or it may be going in a different direction. I know it’s tough for him with the situation he’s in as a player to sit there and not know what’s going on.”
So, Ward waits.
“I think we’re not far off. I want to stay because I want to stay [in Raleigh], but I also want to stay because of the group we have here,” Ward said. “I believe in what Peters is doing, I believe in what Francis is doing. I’d like to be a part of it.”
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email