This season was one of high expectations for Cam Ward. The Hurricanes officially deemed him their franchise goalie by signing him to a six-year, $37.8 million contract that will kick in for the 2010-11 season. He was also coming off his second ever playoff appearance and was instrumental in again leading the team deep into the postseason before the eventual champion Penguins dispatched Carolina in four straight games.
Ward has a proven playoff track record and was coming off a career-best regular season in 2008-09, but the team's early season struggles and Ward's injury woes derailed not only any chance of a return to the postseason but also Ward's expected ascension into the goaltending elite.
|2009 - Cam Ward
Ward was one of just four former Carolina first-round picks to crack the roster this season (Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter and Zach Boychuk were the others) and is already ninth in franchise history in games played with Carolina — just 37 games shy of Arturs Irbe's 309 games played for tops in Hurricanes history for games by a goalie — despite being just 26 years old.
The Good: When healthy, Ward is among the league's best goalies. That was illustrated in his final six games when he went 4-2, allowing just 13 goals while stopping 176 of 189 shots (.931 save percentage). He holds the Carolina/Hartford career wins mark with 138 (passing Irbe's previous mark of 130 this past season) and is track to hold every major goaltending record in franchise history if he stays healthy. While he didn't get to show it this year, Ward is one of the game's top clutch players — and don't listen to the people who will tell you he was exposed against Pittsburgh in the conference finals last season. His .916 save percentage on the season was on par with 2008-09, but his goals-against average crept up by a quarter of a goal (2.44 in 2008-09 to 2.69 this season), the result of a goalie facing more — and any observer will tell you, higher quality — shots.
The Bad: The numbers say a lot. Ward was 18-23-5 in 2009-10 and was the loser in 10 of the losses in Carolina’s horrific 14-game losing streak. He was spared the other four because he was injured in the 11th game of the skid against Columbus. Speaking of injuries, they certainly play a part in Ward's struggles in 2009-10. On top of the aforementioned skate slash injury suffered Nov. 7 against the Blue Jackets, Ward entered the season with a sore back — a frightening injury seeing that it had flared up months earlier during the Eastern Conference Finals. Perhaps the biggest criticism you can levy on Ward is he was unable to steal a game during the losing streak that ultimately cost the Hurricanes their season. He registered no shutouts for the first time since his rookie season in 2005-06 (although he had two that postseason en route to the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup), and given the way the defense struggled early in the year, the team could have used one miraculous performance to shake them from the funk they were in.
The Money: Ward earned $3.5 million in the final year of a three-year contract that paid him an average of $2.5 million a season. His new contract will pay him $5 million in 2010-11 and escalate to $6.8 million in its final year in 2015-16, with the cap hit being $6.3 million each season.