Much has been said about Scott Darling coming to the Carolina Hurricanes, with the understanding he will be the No. 1 goalie.
One voice not heard: Cam Ward’s.
For more than a decade, Ward has been the Canes’ franchise goalie. Since the day the Canes raised the Stanley Cup in 2006, and Ward was given the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, No. 30 has been No. 1 in net.
But Ward said Friday that he will have – and would accept – the role of backup in the coming season and would assist Darling any way he can, with the goal of making the Canes a playoff team again.
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“I’m realistic,” Ward said in an interview at Raleigh Center Ice. “I understand the situation. I know he was brought in here to sign a four-year deal for pretty good money not to be a backup.
“I know where I am in my career. … Certainly I’m a competitive guy and I still want to be able to play and I’ll do whatever I can to earn that ice time, but I’m hopeful he can make that next step. He deserves that.”
Darling, 28, was Corey Crawford’s backup in net with the Chicago Blackhawks, winning a Stanley Cup in 2015, and was due to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season. But the Canes first traded for the negotiating rights to Darling, then quickly signed him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract on May 5.
“I thought it was a great move,” Ward said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about Scott Darling. .. I look at a guy who’s ready to take that next step.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be here as long as I have and to be a No. 1 guy for over a decade, so I think I have something to offer to him. I think I can offer him my experience and give him the support he needs to make that next step.”
Ward, 33, holds every Hurricanes franchise record worth having. He’s the career leader in games played (625), wins (295) and shutouts (25). He set the franchise record with 39 wins in 2008-09, the past year the Canes advanced to the playoffs.
For years, Ward was paid like one of the NHL’s best goalies, signing a six-year, $37.8 million contract in October 2009. There was speculation he might be traded during the 2015-16 season, in the final year of the contract, but he agreed to a two-year extension in June 2016 that paid him a lesser salary – $3.5 million last season and $3.1 million in 2017-18.
“Cam has been a major face of the Hurricanes both on the ice and in our community for more than a decade,” general manager Ron Francis said of the signing.
But Ward and Eddie Lack struggled with consistency last season. Had the Canes gotten better goaltending – Carolina’s .901 save percentage was 27th in the NHL – they might have edged their way into a playoff wild-card berth.
Francis responded by trading for Darling and trading away Lack – the goalie and defenseman Ryan Murphy being sent to the Calgary Flames.
Darling’s numbers were impressive last season with the Blackhawks: an 18-5-5 record, with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in 32 games. His save percentage was tied for fourth-best among the NHL goalies who started more than 25 games.
Francis’ reshaping of the Canes continued with the signing of free-agent forward Justin Williams – one of the Canes’ 2006 heroes – along with trades for center Marcus Kruger and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.
“Bringing back Justin Williams is exactly the guy we need in the locker room,” Ward said. “Not only in the locker room, but he can still play and put up numbers on the ice and lead by example. … I like our team. It’s on us to go out there and perform. I think the tools are there. It’s a matter of us executing.”
Once again, Ward will be in the final year of a contract. There are no guarantees beyond this season, which begins Oct. 7.
“I’m getting toward the end,” Ward said. “I hate to say that but it’s realistic. I’m not in the first-half of my career; I’m in the second half.
“You learn to appreciate the game a lot more, your time with your teammates and trying to help them out. I’m looking forward to meeting Scott. I think we’ll be a good partnership.”