Many criticized the signing of goaltender Cam Ward in the offseason. But with an injury to Corey Crawford and little defense to help him out, Ward performed as average as any fan of the Chicago Blackhawks could ask of the backup goaltender.
*all stats are from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick*
There was a lot of animosity from fans of the Chicago Blackhawks after general manager Stan Bowman failed to acquire above-average players on July 1 last year. One of the signings many criticized was Cam Ward: a Stanley Cup Champion and former Conn Smythe winner who struggled for many years in Carolina.
And while his stats definitely don’t show any improvements from his resume with the Hurricanes, I’d argue Ward was an essential member of this team when their starting goaltender went down with injury and the Blackhawks probably wouldn’t have even be vying for a playoff spot without him.
2018-2019 statistics: 33 GP, 29 starts, 16 wins, 12 losses, 4 overtime/shootout losses, .897 save percentage, 3.67 goals against average
If you look at just the save percentage and none of the other statistics, you might automatically make the assumption that Ward had a pretty bad year. And yeah, an .897 save percentage isn’t even near league average. Dig in deeper and you see that Ward actually had a decent season.
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In 33 games played, Ward had a .919 save percentage at 5-on-5 play. He actually played better than Corey Crawford in 5-on-5 situations in terms of overall save percentage. I’m not going to really focus on goals against average because it’s an iffy statistic that doesn’t determine much about how well a goaltender plays. But for those who are interested, Ward had a 2.80 GAA at 5-on-5.
At even strength (4-on-4 or 5-on-5), Ward posted a .912 save percentage, which isn’t bad at all. He also faced a team-leading 313 high-danger chances at even strength despite playing less games than Crawford. Last year, he had a .913 save percentage at even strength and .917 save percentage at 5-on-5 play. In other words, Ward performed much like he did last season.
When Corey Crawford was out with injury, Cam Ward posted a 13-5-2 record. There’s something to be said for how well he performed when the ‘Hawks were under substantial pressure with their starter not available.
For as many positives as Ward had this season for the Chicago Blackhawks, he had quite a few negatives, too.
Let’s look back at that .897 save percentage for a second. I mentioned in the positives that his 5-on-5 and even strength save percentages were fine, and that’s true. So if you’re wondering how his overall numbers look terrible, it’s mostly because of his high-danger save percentage and his numbers on the penalty kill.
At 5-on-5, Cam Ward had an .847 high-danger save percentage. That’s more than .010 lower than Corey Crawford. The average distance of the goals he allowed was 19.89 feet, so he had a difficult time stopping high-danger chances compared to both Crawford and Collin Delia. Ward’s high-danger save percentage at even strength (.843) was around the same as it was at 5-on-5.
What’s a really bad look for Ward are his numbers on the penalty kill. Out of the three goaltenders who were in net for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, Ward had the worst save percentage (.797), GAA (13.54), and high-danger save percentage (.690) by far. I understand the penalty kill was historically atrocious this season, but this isn’t a good look for him. Crawford was almost a .900 save percentage on the PK and Delia was .857. Ward needed to perform better when the team was down a man than he did.
I think if this is any other season, I’d be giving Cam Ward somewhere in the Cs. But the Chicago Blackhawks were abysmal at defense this year and left their backup goaltender out to dry more often than not, so I’ll cut him a little bit of slack.
Some people might be thinking this grade is too low for and I can see where you’d get that. Ward made some incredible saves that are definitely going to be in the end-of-season highlight packs. But we should be able to acknowledge his great performances while also being aware of the fact that he didn’t perform well. He’s always been around league average or below it in terms of save percentage.
He also started 29 games in net for a Chicago Blackhawks team that allowed the second-most shots in the entire league as well as the most scoring chances and high-danger chances at 5-on-5 play. It’s no surprise his numbers weren’t that great this season. The defense on this team didn’t help him out one bit.
However, you’d expect more out of your backup on the penalty kill and he did not perform well there at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if his poor numbers in these situations drove the Blackhawks’ penalty kill efficiency down. Too often was he all over the place and allowing goals in situations where he probably should’ve made a save. Then again, I mentioned before he also made some incredible stops.
Based on his track record and the fact that he’s 35 years old, I’m not going to put any money on the Blackhawks bringing Cam Ward back next season as a backup. He stole some games for the team while playing horribly in other games. I do thank him for making incredible saves when needed, though. His efforts have not gone unnoticed by the fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. We wish him luck in his future endeavors wherever they may lead him.