When it was announced that right-wing Joel Ward had signed a three-year, $9.75 million free agent contract with the San Jose Sharks in July, it was news that many Capitals fans dreaded. Not only was the team losing a leader, but also a clutch playoff-performer and beloved member of the community. For four seasons, Ward had been instrumental in the Capitals’ success and was a fan favorite. His loss will certainly be felt, but the additions of fellow right wingers Justin Williams and TJ Oshie will help alleviate that.
The true brilliance of Ward was his tireless pursuit of the puck. Never afraid to go to the dirty areas, Ward was a team player, in every sense of the word. While his first two seasons in a Caps sweater were nothing to pay attention to (18 points in 73 games in 2011-12, 20 points in 39 games of the 48-game lockout-shortened season), his final two seasons made him a valuable member of the offense. In 2013-14, Ward scored a career-high 24 goals and 49 points in all 82 games. He saw power play and penalty kill time, scoring six of his 24 goals on the man-advantage.
Last year, under Barry Trotz, for whom he played for in Nashville, Ward scored 19 goals and totaled 34 points. Ward’s contribution’s both on and off the ice were felt by many. During the holiday season, Ward, along with his teammates, delivered presents to needy families in the DC-area. This was just one of many things that made Ward a fan favorite. Ward’s leadership and energy will be sorely missed by the Capitals, but perhaps the biggest thing the Caps will miss is Ward’s clutch playoff performances. In his first season in a Capitals sweater, Ward scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history when he scored the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 7 of the Caps’ first-round matchup with the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Ward chipped a Mike Knuble shot between the pads of goalie Tim Thomas to put the Caps in the winner’s circle.
More recently, Ward showed why the Capitals truly signed him when, in Game 1 of the Capitals’ second-round series against the New York Rangers, scored with just one second remaining in regulation to give the Caps a 1-0 lead in the series.
Ward and the San Jose Sharks will visit the Capitals on Tuesday; Ward’s first game as a visitor in nearly five years. While it may not be a big day for some, Jason Chimera has been waiting for his “twin brother” to return for some time. As he explained to Caps Senior Writer Mike Vogel in a Rinkside Update (can be seen on Monumental Network): “I’ve talked to him. He’s obviously missed in this locker room, definitely a different feel to it. But the good thing is he’s only a phone call away…..brothers don’t fight but I’ll probably try to destroy him (final result of the game) once we start playing”.
Ward’s departure was really about the Capitals’ lack of cap space and term, as Ward wanted four years while the Caps wanted two due to Ward’s age. While he may not end his playing days in DC, Ward will always be loved by his former teammates, coaches, and fans for his hard work ethic, happy personality, and the ability to perform when he was needed the most.
By Michael Fleetwood