Is there any question the true mark of an elite goaltender in the NHL hinges on his performance under pressure and, in particular, the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
It's an area Carolina Hurricanes
goalie Cam Ward
seemingly has perfected ever since he entered the League as a budding 22-year-old prospect in 2005-06, when he equaled the rookie record for playoff wins (15) and became the first rookie goalie since Ron Hextall
to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
For obvious reasons, Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford has believed in Ward since the day he drafted him No. 25 in 2002 and he proved it Wednesday when he awarded his franchise goalie a six-year, $37.8 million contract extension set to kick in at the beginning the 2010-11 campaign.
"Right from the first day of Cam's first training camp with us, we knew we had something special because, at the time, you could see how fundamentally strong he was," Rutherford said during a news conference following practice Wednesday at the RBC Center in Raleigh. "We now have the two cornerstones of our team (Eric Staal
and Ward) wrapped up for several years and, regardless of good times or bad times, we can always build around Cam and Eric, so it's a great day."
The idea behind the deal is somewhat similar to Staal's seven-year, $55.75 million extension -- set to begin this season -- that was inked last September.
"He's performed so well for this team, it's always good when you get your best young players locked up and I think it helps with the framework and the structure going forward," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice
said. "We have a tremendous amount of confidence in Cam and felt he was the key piece to us turning our season around last year and getting on a roll. You expect him to deal with the pressure and handle the job."
"As an organization, you could go out and spend big contracts with the free agents but you really don't know 100 percent what you're getting," Rutherford said. "In this case, we drafted Cam and we know him as a player and person and we felt very strongly about him. I wouldn't have any other goalie as the Hurricanes' goalie, so we felt very strongly about this and getting it done now."
Ward could have become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2010, but now Rutherford doesn't have to worry about that.
"In his first year with us, he got pushed in there pretty quick when we were trying to go along at a relatively comfortable pace," Rutherford said. "But Cam played (28) regular-season games and then it was his time and he went in and won the Conn Smythe. So it was pretty obvious right in the first season that this was going to be the franchise goalie for a long time."
Ward enjoys thriving under pressure and wants to continue proving that now that his extension is finalized.
"I did have one year left on my deal and was focused on that, but if there was a deal to be done, we wanted to get it done before the regular season so come Friday my focus is on hockey," Ward said. "I'm glad it's behind me now and I know it will get harder and harder but I'm not going to be complacent. I want to be better and better and try to be one of those elite goaltenders in the NHL.
"The pressure will always be there to play like an elite goalie now that I'm being paid like one and that's not something I've shied away from in the past."
Ward and his wife, Cody, are ecstatic knowing they'll be in Raleigh an additional six seasons.
"My wife and I have absolutely fallen in love with Raleigh," he said. "It's exciting to be a part of such a top-notch organization and I want to thank the players, too, because I realize this wouldn't be possible without their help playing in front of me. I'm fortunate to be playing in front of fans who have obviously been outstanding -- it's a treat for the players to come to RBC Center and play in the atmosphere they provide. I hope it's going to be a good six years and I can't wait to get started."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org