Cam Ward's Workload

OTTAWA ON - OCTOBER 14: Cam Ward making a save on one of at least 30 shots he faced on the night. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

Goalies are easy for fans to become attached to because how much of an impact this position on a team. An elite goaltender can turn a mediocre team into a playoff contender while an awful season between the pipes can send a team spiraling to a lottery pick. No one can deny the importance of a goaltender, the problem with goalies is that you never know what kind of performance you will get from one. Whenever a GM elects to commit long-term money to any player, he is taking a big risk because a player who may seem like a sure thing now could decline as soon as next season. This risk is magnified times 100 with goaltenders because of how much impact they have on a team.

Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford decided to take that risk a couple years ago with Cam Ward by locking him up to a six year contract worth $37.8 mil. Ward is being paid as if he is a top-tier goalie and his play will have a huge impact on how the Hurricanes perform for the remainder of his contract. He starts nearly every game for the team and we've seen over the last couple seasons that Ward's play often dictates whether or not the Hurricanes win or lose. He was a major reason why the Canes were so close to a playoff spot in the 2010-11 season (which was the best year of his career) and why they struggled so much at the start of this year.

In my post where I looked at Goals Versus Salary values, I said that Ward did not play like a goalie worth $6.3 mil. this season and I think that is fair to say. As of right now, Henrik Lundqvist is the only goaltender with a higher cap hit than Ward and he obviously isn't at that level. When you separate Ward's play from his contract, this isn't that big of a deal and as a fan, I am happy to have Ward as our goalie but $6.3 mil. per year is top-tier money. I don't think Ward's play last year was up to that standard.

However, a commenter brought up the point that Ward played behind possibly the worst defense in the league and that his .919 EV save percentage is misleading. Later in that day, Benjamin Wendorf of NHL Numbers made a post about which goalies got hung out to dry the most this year. In that post, he looked at the Attempted Shot Percentage (shots on goal + missed shots at even strength) for each team when a certain goalie was on the ice and how many shots they saw per 60 minutes on the penalty kill. This gives us an idea of which goalies had to see the most pucks while they were in net and how much offense the team in front of them was creating.

If you glance over the NHL Numbers article, you will see that the Hurricanes controlled only 47.3% of the even strength shot attempts when Ward was in net, the 9th worst in the league. The other thing you'll notice is that Ward saw the 6th most shots on the penalty kill, so he was definitely under fire for most of this season and had to be on his toes.

Wendorf's post made me wonder how long this has been going on with Ward and how he has performed in past seasons relative to his workload. I took the same data that Wendorf looked at and applied it to the last five seasons to see where Ward ranks among the pack. A look at those numbers is coming after the jump.

It is fair to say that Ward had to stand on his head during most games this year and didn't get much support from the team in front of him when it came to getting shots on goal. However, I made a couple interesting discoveries after going over the data from the last few seasons. One of those was that Ward was actually under more pressure last season and performed a lot better. The numbers speak for themselves.

Player Rk Fenwick/60 SA/60 EV Sv%
Ward 2011 200 0.4767170 45.75 0.919
Ward 2010 216 0.4713637 47.51 0.927
Ward 2009 201 0.4766127 43.43 0.924
Ward 2008 26 0.5397923 40.62 0.926
Ward 2007 52 0.5263455 40.69 0.917

Rk = where the goalie ranks in Fenwick/60, the higher the ranking, the fewer shots per game they saw, SA/60 = How many shots the team allowed at even strength per 60 minutes, EV Sv% = Even strength save percentage. 256 goalies sampled

Over the last three seasons, the Hurricanes puck possession game at even strength has dwindled for whatever reason and it's put Ward under a lot of duress. The strange thing is that Ward was playing some of the best hockey of his career during 2009 & 2010, so facing that many shots on a nightly basis didn't seem to get to him that much. In fact, it brought out the best in him during the 2010-11 season. That's what made him such a big part in the Hurricanes' playoff push in the 2010-11 season and there was no way they would have gotten that close without him.

Ward was still had to face a lot of shots this season but his save percentage at even strength dropped quite a bit. You can chalk this up to fatigue, playing through injuries or just random variance that happens with all goalies. I stand by my statement that Ward didn't play like a $6.3 mil. goalie this season but is it fair to expect him to stand on his head every night while the rest of the team gets plowed at even strength? Ward might have been overpaid but the rest of the team didn't do him much favors.

On the penalty kill, things were a little similar.

Player Rk PK Fen/60 PK Sv%
Ward 2011 79 72.4 0.877
Ward 2010 19 80.32 0.895
Ward 2009 136 68.03 0.883
Ward 2008 50 75.91 0.871
Ward 2007 140 67.77 0.849

During the 2010-12 season, the Hurricanes were horrible at preventing shots on the PK but Ward responded to the challenge by posting a strong PK save percentage. Unsurprisingly, that didn't carry over into the next season because you can't give up that many shots and expect for your goalie stand on his head. Yes, Ward could have been better but the defense was a much bigger problem than the goaltending for Carolina. I know that's the normal excuse for goalies but the Canes were a very poor team at preventing shots and that's obviously going to have a direct effect on your goaltending and likely your team's win total.

Stats courtesy of Behind The Net and Hockey Analysis. Project idea comes from Benjamin Wendorf of Arctic Ice Hockey & NHL Numbers.

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