SAN JOSE -– In yet another move that strongly suggests that the Sharks are back in win-now mode, veteran right wing Joel Ward was signed on Friday to a three-year contract with San Jose.
On the day before July 4, Ward is taking off his red, white and blue to put on teal, leaving the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent. It became evident that Ward would be looking for a new home after Washington added T.J. Oshie via trade with St. Louis, and signed Justin Williams away from Los Angeles earlier this week.
Ward sounded excited to be coming to a club that he still believes can compete for a Stanley Cup.
“The names on the roster speak for themselves. It made the decision pretty easy,” Ward said on a conference call Friday. “I want to win, and give [myself] a chance to hoist the Cup. I thought that was a place that with the roster, I could come in here and fit and try to achieve that goal.”
The rock-solid 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ontario native got positive input from Peter DeBoer prior to making his decision. According to the new Sharks coach, DeBoer admired Ward from afar dating back to coaching junior hockey against him more than a decade ago. Later, he got an up-close look at Ward at the 2014 World Championships when both were a part of Team Canada.
“I had a few conversations with him just about where I felt he would fit, and how important I thought what he brought to the table was for our group here in San Jose,” DeBoer said.
Ward said: “When I got a chance to talk to Pete, that really helped sway me of being in a good situation. There was a group that wanted me, which is always good to feel loved, as they say.”
And how will he fit in? Along with Ward adding some much-needed depth at wing, DeBoer spoke about the well-liked veteran’s attitude before anything else.
“I think with all the guys we signed, Doug [Wilson], [asst. GM] Joe Will and I wanted to make sure we brought in good people. That’s first and foremost. … We’re bringing along a lot of very good young players in the organization and we want to surround them with the right type of leadership and right type of role models.”
That’s key, as the Sharks still were showing signs of having a rough culture and fractured dressing room deep into their disappointing 2014-15 season. Ward and Paul Martin, another 34-year-old that was brought in as a veteran on the blue line, both seem to bring an important set of off-ice attributes to go along with their on-ice abilities. Goaltender Martin Jones was also a well-liked and respected teammate in Los Angeles, according to two Kings sources.
“There’s no doubt that we were looking for that type of person, that type of teammate,” Doug Wilson said, also mentioning Ben Smith and Brenden Dillon, who were added mid-season. “It enhances our leadership, but we’re bringing in a lot of young players. We expect them to be mentored the right way, and these guys all enhance that. That’s been part of our plan in the last year.”
Ward said: “I love playing the game. I love going to the rink. I’m sure any of my former teammates can tell you I enjoy hanging out with the guys. Just come with a good attitude every day. I just want to win like everybody else does. It makes it a lot easier when you’re in a group that is trying to achieve the same goal as you.”
Ward has shown he can raise his game in the postseason, something the Sharks haven't been able to do over the years. He led Washington in playoff scoring with 9 points as the Capitals fell in the second round to New York, and has a .66 points-per-game average in the playoffs (up from .43 in the regular season).
He scored with 1.6 seconds left on the clock in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, giving Washington a 2-1 win in a series they would go on to lose in 7 games to the Rangers. In 2012, Ward slipped in an overtime goal in Game 7 of the first round to knock out the Boston Bruins.
“I think I just love the challenge of playoffs,” Ward said. “Who doesn’t? Hostile environments on the road, everybody’s all over you. … I just go out there and sometimes I’m just fortunate to crack a few in.”
DeBoer gave Ward more credit than the player wanted to give himself.
“What I like best about him is he plays a man’s game. He goes to the blue paint and scores in the dirty areas where the goals come at the toughest time of year.
“There’s a reason he has success in the playoffs. So, we’re excited to have that element.”
Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images