Cam Ward backstopped the Carolina Hurricanes to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup championship in 2005-06. He was not only part of the team, but also the most critical element in it, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs that year. He’s been the team’s starter ever since and has just under 500 games played between the regular season and postseason. On that basis, it’s hard to imagine him being traded.
However, Sportsnet’s Josh Rimer suggested that Ward was “in play,” and then those suggestions were confirmed by one of the biggest names in the business: TSN’s Darren Dreger.
It’s a report that makes a certain amount of sense given the Hurricanes’ goaltending situation, too. Backup ‘tender Anton Khudobin has been exceptional for the team when healthy. Third-stringer Justin Peters has also played very well. In contrast, Ward is sporting a sub-0.900 save percentage.
Ward’s recent performance is the first item that’s going to drag down his value in any potential trade, though there are others. He hasn’t been healthy this year, missing significant time to a “lower body injury,” but more importantly, he hasn’t played well when he was healthy.
2012-13 was much the same story; what TSN reported as an MCL injury cost Ward 27 games, and his save percentage when he did play was a mediocre 0.908.
A second point worth considering is Ward’s contract. According to NHL Numbers, he has two seasons left at a $6.3 million cap hit. That’s not likely to be a deal breaker for anybody, but it does mean that Carolina’s bound to be taking salary back in any deal.
The biggest problem, though, is the market for goalies. It’s a game of musical chairs, and there are way more contestants than there are spots available. In addition to Carolina, teams in Anaheim, Minnesota, St. Louis and Washington all have three NHL-ready goalies and a credible starting-calibre player presumably available for trade. The Sabres, Oilers, Senators and Maple Leafs all have two guys who could plausibly be No. 1 goalies.
That makes for nine potential trading partners for a team looking for a goalie, and only the Flames, Islanders and Jets are really in a position where an upgrade is required (and with all three teams way out of the playoff hunt, it is fair to wonder whether any of them will be willing to pay for a midseason upgrade).
Rationally, the market for Ward during the season should be pretty low. But the goaltending market does not always behave rationally.
Ward has playoff pedigree, including a Stanley Cup ring. He has marquee value and “proven winner” status that a younger goalie with superior numbers (James Reimer, for example) doesn’t bring. NHL general managers have a tendency to value that stuff highly; it’s how Nikolai Khabibulin keeps finding work despite basically having been finished in 2004, and it's why the Philadelphia Flyers were willing to blow up their team to finally and permanently settle their goaltending problem once and for all with one-time Vezina finalist Ilya Bryzgalov.
In that context, the return for Ward could be practically anything.
For a team with lots of cap space, the return could plausibly be in futures and would likely resemble something similar to what Vancouver received for Cory Schneider (a ninth overall pick) or what Montreal got for Jaroslav Halak (13th overall pick Lars Eller, fringe prospect Ian Schultz). Basically, a mid-first-round draft pick seems to be the range for an established goalie.
For a team without cap space or not interested in tying it up, the return would probably be a decent player with some warts and a contract. A player like Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien would fit the bill, as would somebody like Sam Gagner in Edmonton. Both of those names are entirely speculative, but Winnipeg cannot be happy with its goaltending situation, and the Oilers’ actions under new general manager Craig MacTavish suggests a preoccupation with landing an established goalie.
But Carolina should not have a lot of leverage given the state of the goaltending market. They just have to hope that some other team out there has convinced itself it needs Ward or a goalie just like him. It is the difference between almost no return and a significant add.