This season's February 27 trade deadline was the earliest in NHL history. Amongst the near record-setting 44 trades were three moves made by Tampa Bay Lightning Executive Vice President & General Manager Jay Feaster. The Lightning were looking to add some late-season depth to the roster and they found just that when they acquired Jason Ward.
For some teams and players the deadline can mean blockbuster deals or the hunt for a key acquisition that might lift a club as they enter the playoffs. For Ward the deadline meant he was moving - again.
Only 22 days prior to becoming a member of the Lightning, Ward was part of a five-player deal that sent the right winger from the New York Rangers to the Los Angeles Kings. Ironically enough, Ward's last game with the Rangers was played at the St. Pete Times Forum a mere two days before he made his debut with the Kings in the same building.
After playing parts of four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, the former first round pick (11th overall, 1997) signed as a free agent with the Rangers late in the summer of 2005. Spending the entire season with New York coming out of the lockout, Ward recorded a career-high 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) through 81 games before notching four goals and 10 points in 46 games with the Rangers this year.
Next thing Ward knew a flurry of trade activity had begun. Playing only seven games with Los Angeles and recording one assist, Ward was on his way back across the country to suit up for the Lightning less than a month after the first trade of his career.
"It's been tough," Ward said of the trades. "I have two kids who are 4 and 1 so it makes it real tough in that aspect of the game. But it's just a game I love to play and sometimes you have tough years. That happens, but we're here now, so everything feels good and comfortable and I know I can't get traded anymore this year."
Saying the latter with a smile, Ward arrives in Tampa Bay with a reputation for being an enthusiastic and hard worker. Known as an energy player that specializes in penalty killing situations, Ward has added solid depth to the Lightning's forward lines.
Although the Lightning boasts two of the league's leading scorers, Ward feels his role is to help the Lightning in any way he can.
"I'm just a real energy guy that goes out there and tries to be effective on the penalty kill," Ward said. "I think that one of my big responsibilities as a player is on the penalty kill. I just go out there, work hard and try to contribute whenever I can."
"He is exactly what we thought he was when we acquired him in that he's a hard-working guy, he's a good penalty killer and he is responsible defensively," Feaster said. "He does get himself in scoring positions, has some offensive upside and he's a guy that fits well within our system."
Although he has only played in a handful of games with Tampa Bay, Ward emerged as one of the heroes in a come-from-behind overtime victory against the New York Islanders on March 20. After assisting on Eric Perrin's game-opening goal, Ward connected for the tying score early in the third period to help send the contest into extra time and gain precious points in the standings. He chipped in his second goal for the team in the following game, a 3-1 victory against New Jersey.
By being such a visible player in those contests, Ward did just what the Lightning hoped he would do by jumping into the play and adding some needed points to the board.
"As far as his play so far we think that he's done a good job, and certainly contributing a goal is something that we'd like to see him do even more of," Feaster said. "He is very effective on the penalty kill and as a forechecker in our system. We think that the combination of he and Tim Taylor as two penalty killers as a unit read off each other pretty well, and we like that look right now.
"We like the fact that so far there appears to be some chemistry on his part with Brad Richards and that's why, if he can continue to score and chip in offensively, he is a guy that we think can play on that second line with [Richards]."
Showing signs of clicking with Taylor and Richards is just one part of the learning process Ward has gone through twice this season. With each trade and each new system comes different learning curves, and thus far Ward has been solid for his new team. Ward feels part of that has to do with the Lightning's schedule immediately following the trade.
While Ward was acquired on the day of a home game he didn't make his Lightning debut until the first night of a six-game, 13-day road trip that took the team up the East Coast and across western Canada. Facing the prospect of getting to know a new set of teammates, the recently acquired forward welcomed the time on the road.
"The road is always a good time to meet and spend time with the guys," Ward said. "For me, I thought it was the perfect fit to be with the team and to meet the new guys. Around the trade deadline there are guys that come and go, so it's a good time to be on the road. I feel very comfortable with this team right off the bat and that always helps with the transition."
Heading into the final few games of the season when the transition will shift from a home-ice dominated schedule straight into the playoffs, Ward looks forward to the challenge of playing out the season with Tampa Bay. In doing that, Ward can also rest assured that he's found a home.