From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2011-12 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2012-13. Next up,.
#42 / Right Wing / Washington Capitals
Dec 02, 1980
4 and a cup of coffee
$3,000,000 cap hit through 2014-15; UFA summer 2015
Previous Rink Wraps: N/A
Key Stat: Ward's 12:26 of ice time per game was a 27% decrease from his 2010-11 total of 17:04.
Interesting Stat: Ward's 18 regular-season points all came at even-strength and were split evenly among goals and primary and secondary assists, with six of each.
The Good: In many ways, Ward did what was expected of him this season - he played tough minutes and played them well. Among forwards only Brooks Laich and Matt Hendricks both started a lower percentage of even-strength shifts in the offensive zone and faced tougher competition, and not a single forward on the team had a better on-ice goals-against average than Ward (who posted an even relative Corsi and a team-best plus-12 rating). Why he wasn't deployed more frequently overall, but especially in a defensive-zone specialist role is one of the season's great mysteries, especially since he, Laich and Jason Chimera seemed to have all the makings of an outstanding shutdown line early on.
But defense alone does not a $3-million forward make, and if Ward disappointed with his scoring totals (he potted three-fifths as many goals as he did the season before), perhaps look to the guys behind the bench and not the player - Ward actually improved upon last season's goal and primary assist rates at even-strength, and upped his even-strength goal total (to a modest half-dozen), despite consistently playing a bottom-six role. And whereas Ward scored five power-play goals for the 2010-11 Predators, he got just 10:26 of extra-man time for the Caps all season.
Of course, the prevailing narrative is that the Caps got Joel Ward for the playoffs, and, in the first round, he delivered, pointing in Games 5 and 6 and then doing this...
The Bad: Ward - who by George McPhee's own admission was overpaid by around 15% on the free agent market - was made an example of in Bruce Boudreau's new-found accountability regime as he was scratched for missing a team meeting (one of the last tough decisions Boudreau would end up making for the Caps). His per-game and raw scoring numbers were the worst he's posted since becoming an NHL regular, and while the reduced ice time certainly played its part in that, there's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg going on here - two goals over his final 61 games is atrocious, even at 12 minutes per night. Ward missed seven games with an injury late in the season, and perhaps there were injury and/or conditioning concerns earlier in the season that hampered his productivity (new deal complacency?), but whatever it was, 2011-12 was largely a lost season for Ward.
Oh, and this happened.
The Vote: Rate Ward below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: There are probably few if any Caps who looking forward to a new coach as much as Ward, who will get a fresh start in his second year in D.C. How should the new coach utilize Ward differently from how Boudreau and Dale Hunter did? What's Ward's role on a championship-contending team? What does Ward himself need to do to find success in Year Two? Finally, what will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?