With Ward, Sharks Add Grit To Roster, Character To Locker Room
SAN JOSE — One by one, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is knocking items off of his summer wish list: a No. 1 goalie, a defenseman to complement Brent Burns and a hard-nosed veteran forward.
All three acquisitions — Martin Jones, Paul Martin and Joel Ward — share a common thread: they’re guys who will help shift the culture in the Sharks locker room.
“We had a specific order,” Wilson said. “We wanted to get the top-end goalie. We wanted to get a top-four Dman that would compliment Brent Burns and, hopefully, find a forward like this.”
The Sharks completed a busy week on Friday, signing the 34-year-old Ward to a three-year contract worth $9.825 million. The signing comes on the heels of Martin’s acquisition on Wednesday, the team’s trade for Jones on Tuesday and the addition of 10 players at the 2015 NHL Draft last weekend.
In addition to his grit, toughness and puck-possession style of game, the Sharks brought in Ward because of the character he’ll bring to a locker room that’s trying to undergo a culture change after missing the Stanley Cup playoffs first the first time in more than a decade last season.
As the Sharks prepare to hand the keys over to a young crop of players, they’re looking for guys who are known for their leadership on and off the ice, so that the next generation is receiving quality mentorship.
“All the players that we’ve added have those qualities,” Wilson said, referring to locker room character. “It goes back to Ben Smith, when we brought Ben in, Ben is that. Brenden Dillon is certainly that way; Martin Jones, Paul Martin, Joel Ward all have those characteristics, so there’s no doubt that we were looking for that type of person, that type of teammate.”
Head coach Peter DeBoer praised Ward’s character, too, saying he admires the perseverance it required to get to the NHL. After playing Canadian junior hockey with the Owen Sound Platers (1997-2001), Ward was not drafted into the league. Instead, he went to college and joined the hockey team at the University of Prince Edward Island (2001-2005).
After college, Ward landed a contract with the AHL’s Houston Aeros (2005), where he played for two seasons before getting called up to the Minnesota Wild during the 2006-07 season, making his NHL debut at the ripe age of 26.
“I have a lot of time for people like that,” DeBoer said.
But Ward will be bringing more than just a good attitude to the Sharks. Listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, he plays a heavy-physical game, which should be a fine complement to Tommy Wingels’ hard-edged style of play on the Sharks’ third line.
Ward collected 34 points (19g, 15a) in 82 games with the Washington Capitals last year after posting a career-high 49 points (24g, 25a) during the 2013-14 season.
DeBoer, who coached Ward as an assistant for Team Canada at the 2014 World Championships, called the veteran forward, a “jack-of-all-trades”, who will be a good fit for his system.
“He can play on your first line, he can play on your third line. He can kill penalties, he can play on the power play,” DeBoer said. “What I like best about him is that he plays a man’s game: he goes to the blue paint, he scores in the dirty areas, where the goals come at the toughest time of year.”
Ward was intrigued when the Sharks’ new coach reached out to him over the phone. He also thinks that he’s a good match for DeBoer’s system.
“I take pride in my own zone. I play a defensive style but with an offensive upside,” Ward said. “I try to make plays off the wall. I think my wall play helps out a little bit — just getting pucks out. And I just try and create space for my linemates.”
While Ward was brought in to be a leader for the young guys, he isn’t the type of player who’s going to fire up the room with an inspired speech. Instead, he leads by example.
“The key for me is just to be myself,” Ward said, adding: “I’m not a big ‘ra ra’ guy, but I’ll speak definitely when I have to and, I think, the main thing is just showing it on the ice.”
In addition to being a good fit for DeBoer’s system, Ward said he joined the Sharks because he just really enjoys the city of San Jose.
“I love the Shark Tank, coming in there, it’s always a good environment,” he said. “There’s a lot of great things about it and, obviously, the city itself and where we stayed in Santana Row. I was always excited for that road trip.”
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