Joel Ward took part in a conference call this afternoon, less than 24 hours after becoming one of the three newest members of the Washington Capitals. The right wing signed with the Capitals after leading Nashville in goals and assists in the playoffs, and predictably, most of the questions presented to him during the media session touched on his potential contributions to ensure Washington doesn’t have another postseason flameout.
The Capitals were one of 16 teams who were interested in Ward, according to General Manager George McPhee. In order to land him, McPhee said, Washington overpaid by roughly 15 percent.
“They were very high on my list,” Ward said of his new employer. “One of the teams I’ve actually had a chance to visit the city before, and it’s been one of the teams on my list. I like the way they’re made up and with the skill level they have, if I can help on the back end, so to speak, that’s going to be a positive thing. I’m looking forward to it. I always like what the Caps do every season, and I just hope I can kind of come in and help push them over the edge.”
Ward finished the regular season with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) and was second among Predators forwards in blocked shots (57), third in takeaways (51) and fourth in hits (67).
His most valuable contributions came in the postseason, when he scored seven goals and added six assists in 12 games. Ward had a point in nine of those games and a string of four straight with at least a point.
That’s why Ward, 30, said he believes he can be a difference maker for Washington as well in the playoffs.
“I love playoff hockey,” Ward said. “It’s such a fun time of the year. Anytime knowing you’re going to make the playoffs every year and being consistent at it and have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, it’s always a good feeling, and that was one of the things I was looking forward to and one of the reasons I signed with Nashville. Again, I think everyone thrives on it. You want to try hoist the Stanley Cup, and that’s what I’m going to try to do and hopefully bring that to D.C.”
As to where Ward fits in among the Capitals’ line combinations, he said he has not had a conversation with Coach Bruce Boudreau yet but that he’s content to be part of the supporting cast on a club with highly-skilled players up and down the roster.
“I really haven’t had a chance to sit down and chat about line combos, but I definitely know my role,” Ward said. “Whether it’s to be [on line] one, two, three, four, winning games is the main thing, and regardless who I’m playing with, I’m just going to try to create some space for my linemates and some opportunities and just be defensively sound. Just pay attention to details is what I’m going to do and listen to what Coach Boudeau has to say and just try to execute as best I can.”
Even though he has logged at least 29 points in each of the past three seasons, Ward indicated his value is as much about defense and adaptability as production.
“People judge you as this type of player or that type of player, but I try to be good at everything, and why not?” Ward said. “I like the challenge of being out there against the top guys, kind of shut-down guys, and I like to try to get out there if I’m on the penalty kill to block a shot or to get the puck down the ice. Even in the case of being on the power play, just trying to create some space.
“I just try to be able to play in all different areas of the game, five on five, four on four, whatever the case may be, killing penalties, blocking shots or power play. I just want to be on the ice and help my team win.”
Ward also talked extensively about his playoff experience with Nashville, which this season lost in the second round to Western Conference champion Vancouver, and how his familiarity and comfort with postseason pressure could be a significant asset for his new club in the spring.
“It’s just gaining confidence,” Ward said. “As playoff time comes around, you get excited. You play 82 games and all the travel, sometimes there’s a little fatigue, but then you’ve got to find another notch and pick it up a little bit. Things are going to be a little tighter, but that’s the fun part about to say, ‘Hey, it’s a challenge to yourself and you’re teammates and listen this is the playoffs, and you’re playing for the prize.’ That’s what I look forward to and just getting hungry to win and try to help your team as best you can. . . .
“I’m looking forward to the challenge as I’m sure all the guys are of winning the Stanley Cup. It’s everyone’s dream, and I just want to contribute and help out and be part of it.”