“We wanted players that can play a well-rounded game but really be able to raise their level in the tough games," Capitals General Manager George McPhee told reporters this offseason.
McPhee admittedly overpaid to add one of those players, signing free agent forward Joel Ward to a four-year deal worth $3 million a year, but the 6-foot-1, 218-pound right wing could turn out to be one of the Capitals’ most important offseason additions.
Ward is a tough-minutes skater who recorded 10 goals and 19 assists in 80 games last season and was credited with 57 blocked shots, 51 takeaways and 67 hits. In addition, the North York, Ontario, native last season led the Predators to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in their history with 13 points in 12 playoff games.
Despite last season being Ward's worst year offensively, he is still an upgrade to fan favorite Matt Bradley, who contributed only 11 points in 61 regular season games and failed to register a single point in the playoffs.
But it’s not Ward's offense that should interest Caps fans. Instead, they should be enamored by his speed and hustle that allows him to keep the other team's top players from scoring while still moving the puck in the right direction.
Ward faced, by far, the toughest quality of competition on the Predators last season, had the second most difficult zone starts and had the top CORSI relative to his quality of competition.
In other words, despite taking more draws in the defensive zone against the opposition's top lines, the puck spent slightly more time in the offensive zone during even strength when Ward was on the ice.
Ward also played a key role in shutting down opponent’s power plays and was instrumental in improving Nashville’s penalty-killing unit from 28th in 2009-10 to the NHL’s fifth best last season. He ranked fourth among the team's forwards in ice time, logging 1:52 per game, while only 16 wingers in the entire NHL were on the ice for fewer power-play goals against.
“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," Ward explained. "I just want to be on the ice and help my team win.”
Looks like George McPhee finally got his man.