I along with many other Capitals fans, Capitals coaches and Capitals players probably feel the same way about the post-season performance Joel Ward delivered in the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hands down, he was a force. He instilled himself on the first line along two of the league’s leading scorers and tied for the team’s lead in Playoff points. During the regular season, he seemed to do a bit of everything providing some secondary scoring while being juggled line to line. Whatever line Joel Ward was moved to instantly became more productive. We would all agree that having Joel Ward on the Capitals next season would benefit the team during the season and playoffs. Unfortunately, Ward may be done in DC.
At 34 years old, Ward is likely seeking his last long-term contract and the Capitals aren’t in a position fulfill his desire. What do I mean when I say Long-term? It has been reported that Ward and his agent are looking for a deal in the neighborhood of four years. So let’s talk about why a contract of this length for Ward may not be in the best interest of the Capitals.
The Capitals development system is full of prospects that will be ready to challenge for spots in the next four years and some of them are advertised to play the exact game that Ward has grown accustomed to play in the NHL (please check out our player development articles.) When I say this, the Chicago Blackhawks come to mind. They add young talent to their roster every year and still get the job done in the biggest of ways.
As much as it hurts to say, some team is going to sign Ward to a lengthy contract and it’s going to ruin our hopes of signing him to a comfortable term (2 years comes to mind.) But we have to be comfortable letting good players go when the deal isn’t there. I know Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom aren’t getting any younger and many believe the Capitals “Cup Window” is closing, but I disagree. After watching Trotz put his system in place and seeing young players like Kuznetsov and Burakovsky flourish, I’m confident this team has what it takes to overcome the adversity of losing a player like Joel Ward.
Once again, I would love to see Wardo in a Caps jersey next season but only if Maclellan plays it smart and doesn’t forget that Ward would finish out a 4 year contract at 39 years old (!) and it could possibly take a year or two of NHL experience from one of the exciting prospects we have in our system who will be ready to make their debut.