Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 09/30/09 at 10:55 PM ET
For the second time in as many summers, Jim Rutherford has broken with tradition by signing a player to a big contract extension one year before he would become a free agent. Today’s big news was that Cam Ward’s contract was extended for six years at an average of $6.3M. He would have become a restricted free agent in July, but like Eric Staal last summer, JR wanted to get it taken care of. And we’re glad he did.
Starting with the 2010-11 season, Ward will be the third highest paid goaltender in the league and the second highest payed player on the Hurricanes. The team has made a major commitment to the two cornerstones of the franchise, and the significance isn’t lost on Ward.
“I realize I’m being paid to be an elite goaltender. I realize there’s added pressure that always comes with something like this.I do not want to shy away from it. If anything, I want to rise to the occasion…. I’m not going to get complacent. I want to get better and better and be one of those elite goaltenders in the NHL “
We’re a bit biased, but we think he’s already there.
Ward won the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup in his rookie season, but most pundits outside the 919 area code called it a fluke. When he was elevated to #1 goaltender the following season, and the Canes were a bad team, he still managed to put up good goaltender numbers. And he has gotten better every season. Last season, he finally started to make a name for himself around the league. In the final month of the regular season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, he was simply spectacular. He earned the NHL’s Player of the Month award in March as he and the Canes played their way into the playoffs. In the playoffs, he bested Martin Brodeur (for the second time) and Vezina winner Tim Thomas. Unfortunately, by the time he and the Canes got to Pittsburgh, there was nothing left in the tank.
This contract extension will raise some eyebrows because of the length. It’ll raise some eyebrows because of the money. More importantly, though, this is a sign that the front office is dedicated to keeping the best players (Staal and Ward) on the team for a long time. Jim Rutherford knows that these are the two guys who are the building blocks of this franchise. It’s the case now, and it’ll still be the case in a few years when some of the other faces are new.
Rutherford told the News & Observer: “We now have the two cornerstones of our team wrapped up for several years. Regardless in good times or bad times, we can always build around Cam and Eric. Even in troubled times or a bad season, with two like that it should not take long to get back on track.”
Opening night for the Canes is just two days away, and this is one more thing that has the Caniac nation pumped up.
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David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.