When Jim Rutherford went shopping for defensemen this summer, one of his main goals was to get a player capable of playing alongside Joni Pitkanen
. In Aaron Ward, he feels he’s found that player.
“He’s a right shot, he’s big and strong and he can play the minutes,” said Rutherford of Ward. “Joni obviously plays a lot of minutes for us, and we needed someone that can consistently play there. Last year different players like Anton Babchuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Niclas Wallin moved in and out , but now we have our pairs set.”
Ward is expected to be a fixture alongside the big Finn, who led the team in minutes played per game last season with 24:48. The other pairings will feature a continued partnership between Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason and a third pairing of Niclas Wallin and newcomer Andrew Alberts.
As with the re-acquisition of Erik Cole at last year’s trade deadline, Rutherford pointed to Ward’s non-existent learning curve as an advantage of this deal.
“He’s an easy fit because he’s got friends on this team, he knows the area, he loves living here and has a lot of fans here,” said Rutherford. “This is a trade where there’s really no adjustment.”
The current defensive group, along with several young players knocking on the door, has Rutherford feeling pretty good about his collection of rearguards – not to mention his entire roster – for next season.
“It’s another bigger guy,” he said. “We talked about getting our team bigger, and we’ve added two big, strong guys in Alberts and Ward to our defense.”
Still, he may or may not be done, depending on what happens between now and training camp.
“We could stop now and I could feel pretty comfortable going into camp and the start of the year,” he said. “But now is the time where some funny things happen. Certain players kind of become available because the first month of free agency has almost gone by. Sometimes there are some veterans that may make some sense to give you some depth or that have won somewhere else.
“It gets to the point where it’s musical chairs,” Rutherford continued. “If a player doesn’t jump in and grab one of those chairs by the time the season starts, there may not be a chair left. Some of these players are going to have to take a lower salary than they thought, so there may be a player who pops up that we like and can fit in.”
Ironically, Patrick Eaves could be available soon. After acquiring him from Carolina in exchange for Ward, Boston, who is trying hard to fit players under the salary cap, immediately placed him on waivers with the intention of buying him out. Unless someone claims him, Eaves will become an unrestricted free agent.
While more depth signings may or may not happen, there are more pressing issues to be ironed out with defensemen Anton Babchuk and Frantisek Kaberle. The addition of Ward makes a contract buyout of Kaberle seem even more inevitable than it already did. As for Babchuk, Rutherford said today that he was hoping to have that situation sorted out one way or another by the beginning of next week.