The phrase "a tale of two seasons" has been thrown around a lot to describe the year that Hurricanes captain and star player Eric Staal had. While there is no doubt that Staal had a very "up and down" season, the phrase could also be used to describe the year of goaltender Cam Ward. Goaltender performance tends to be very random and unpredictable and the Hurricanes experienced that first hand this year as they saw Ward at his best and at his worst.
One thing we know about Ward is that he is usually one of the main catalysts for the team’s success, so it was no surprise to see the Hurricanes at the bottom of the Eastern Conference when he was struggling. He is always trusted to handle a big workload and play at least 60 games a year including multiple back-to-backs. Many thought that signing Brian Boucher would give Ward a few extra nights off but injuries and Boucher's ineffectiveness got in the way of that. In addition, the Hurricanes defense has been rather porous the last couple of seasons and Ward usually forced to make at least 30 saves per night and this year was no different. Pekka Rinne was the only goaltender in the NHL this season to see more shots than Ward and only four goalies played more games than him. How did Ward perform this season despite the enormous workload?
He posted a respectable save percentage of .915 and had an even strength save percentage of .919, which is about average for an NHL goalie. He also had five shutouts and a record of 30-23-13, so it appears that Ward had a decent season given the quality of the team around him. However, if you examine Ward’s performance in different parts of the year, you might be surprised at how extreme his highs and lows were this season.
After the jump, we will take a closer look at Ward’s numbers from this year and how much his performance impacted the Hurricanes.
#30 / Goalie / Carolina Hurricanes
Feb 29, 1984
|2011 - Cam Ward
For starters, let’s look at Ward’s numbers by month
All goaltenders tend to be "streaky" but Ward seemed to either be really good or really awful depending on what part of the year it was. He got off to a pretty good start but then the wheels just fell off for the next two months. Ward let in 4 or more goals in 11 games during those two months and was pulled four times, as well. This was due to a combination of poor defensive play and Ward’s performance not being up to his usual standard. After that rough patch, Ward pulled a complete 180 and began to look like the goaltender that Caniacs are used to seeing. Actually, he looked a lot better than the Cam Ward fans know because that run in January and early February was one of the strongest of his career.
During January, Ward allowed two or fewer goals in all but two games and didn’t allow more than three goals in any of them. Ward also made 30 or more saves in seven of eleven games that month including a 40-save performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins which resulted in a shootout loss. Unfortunately, the magic started to wear off in early-February and Ward’s performance regressed back towards his normal average. The wear and tear of playing so many games in a season also began to set in for him around that time too as he had to miss a few games with an injury.
After returning from the injury, Ward’s performance was similar to what most would expect from him. He was good on most nights and was capable of stealing a game but he also had his fair share of bad outings. That’s roughly the norm for most goaltenders these days and it’s what the Hurricanes got out of Ward for most of the latter half of the season.
Some might say that Carolina relies on Ward more than other teams rely on their goaltenders and that statement is not only true when you look at the amount of shots he faces, it also shows in their win-loss total. Whenever the Hurricanes got at least a good outing from Cam Ward, they generally won most of those games and vice versa. To illustrate this point, I’m going to use the "Quality Start stat" developed by Rob Vollman of Hockey Prospectus. A goaltender is awarded a "quality start" when they stop at least 91.2% of the shots they face (or 88.5% while allowing two or fewer goals), which gives their team a 75% chance of winning. You can see in the table below that the amount of quality start the Hurricanes got correlated to their wins and losses.
By my count, Ward had quality outings in 38 of his starts this year and the Hurricanes won more than half of those games. Conversely, they won only four of the games when they didn’t get a quality start from Ward. This could show how much the team relies on Ward but I would assume that most teams have quality start records similar to the Hurricanes. I don’t have the stats to back me up on that fortunately. What I can tell you is that Ward was quality in 55.8% of his starts this season, which gives him similar numbers to that of Jonas Hiller, Craig Anderson, Ondrej Pavelec, Corey Crawford, Ryan Miller and Antti Niemi. In other words, he was around the middle of the pack in terms of how many times he gave the Hurricanes a better chance to win. Not bad, but it is small drop off from the 58.5% he posted last season.
Ward is in the second year of a six year contract that carries a cap hit of $6,300,000 and he was also being paid that much in actual salary this year, too. In terms of getting the most for your money, Ward was overpaid as his overall numbers from this year were about average and the Canes clearly want more than that for $6.3 mil. The one good thing about Ward’s contract is that it makes the goaltender position something Carolina doesn’t have to worry about and it also helps that Ward is still pretty young and hasn’t reached his prime yet. Then again, after this season, it’s tough to know what exactly you’ll get out of Ward or any goaltender in a given year.
The Final Word:
This season was quite a roller coaster for Cam Ward, although it wasn’t too different from the ups and downs he has gone through over his career. There is no doubt that Kirk Muller was one of the reasons for the Canes’ turnaround in the second half but Ward regaining his footing once the calendar turned 2012 was another huge reason. Ward is likely going to be in Carolina for the next few years, so he will continue to have a major impact in the team’s performance during that time. Let’s hope that his peaks and valleys aren’t nearly as extreme as they were this season.
How did you feel about Cam Ward’s performance this year? If he exceeded your expectations, give him an A. If he met your expectations give him a C and if he completely let you down, give him an F. What are your expectations for Ward next season? Do you expect him to be more consistent next season or will he be just as streaky? Do you think that the amount of shots he sees on a nightly basis affects his performance and that the Hurricanes should try to make things easier on him next season?