Goaltender Cam Ward was the first off the ice Thursday at Raleigh Center Ice, soon to be followed by Eric Staal.
Ward and Staal have been two constants for the Carolina Hurricanes for more than a decade. They’re the two remaining members of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup champions, a reminder of better times.
Each will be entering the final year of long-term contracts this season. Both have said they want to remain a part of the organization, indicating the desire to sign contract extensions.
“Right now, I’m just going about my business and making sure I’m ready to go,” Ward said after an informal skate. “Obviously, it’s no secret I love being here and there’s nowhere else I want to be.”
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It’s no secret I love being here and there’s nowhere else I want to be.
Canes goalie Cam Ward
Ward, like Staal, said he isn’t stressing over contract terms or pushing to get an extension done before the season begins. His agent, Rick Curran, also represents Staal, and Curran has said his talks with Canes general manager Ron Francis have been productive and amicable.
“In a perfect world I’d like to have something done, but there’s no pressure,” Ward said. “I’ve just got to prepare myself for a great year, not just for myself but for the team. It’s team first. We want to be ready.”
Since the Cup run in 2006, when Ward was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP, the Hurricanes have reached postseason just once, in 2009. The past six seasons have ended with Hurricanes players and coaches facing longer summers than they wanted, with their fans disappointed.
In most years, Ward spent a big chunk of the summer at Sylvan Lake, in Alberta, Canada. He shortened it to six weeks this year, although not altering his offseason work much.
“I did mostly what I did last summer – focused on my nutrition, focused on what can make me better,” he said. “Really that’s everything. It’s your conditioning, your cardio and also your strength.
“I think I’ve been able to keep the same weight as when I left. Typically I come into camp a little lighter than usual, but this year I feel a little bigger and stronger. … As you get older it’s a lot harder to sustain a long season and to play at an elite level.”
The 2014-2015 season was considered a bounce-back year for Ward. He said he wanted to have a better, brighter attitude – and it showed in his demeanor. He was more accessible to the media and other outsiders, back to being a more amiable type in the locker room.
On the ice, Ward’s play also was better. Sharing time in net with Anton Khudobin, he appeared in 51 games and after a slow start that mirrored the team’s finished with fairly solid numbers – a career-low 2.40 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
“I was happy for the most part,” Ward said of his season. “But that was last year and I’m looking to this year, looking for bigger and better things. I still think I’ve got a lot of game left in me, to be at the elite level. It’s up to me to go out there and prove it.”
Ward, 31, has had several goaltending partners through the year. There was Martin Gerber in his rookie year, followed by Michael Leighton and Justin Peters, John Grahame and Brian Boucher, Manny Legace and Dan Ellis.
Khudobin was the Canes’ second goalie the past two years, always looking to push Ward out of net, but was erratic last season and was traded in June to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman James Wisniewski. That came after the Canes worked another trade, obtaining goalie Eddie Lack from the Vancouver Canucks.
Lack bailed out the Canucks last season when Ryan Miller was injured, going 18-13-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .921 save percentage. With a salary cap hit of $1.15 million, the Swede was the Canes’ most important offseason acquisition and is due to come an unrestricted free agent after the 2015-16 season.
Lack is active on social media – he’s on Twitter (@eddielack) and Instagram (@eddiethestork) – and became a hugely popular player in Vancouver. When speculation began about a possible trade, Canucks fans started a “Save Eddie Lack!” online petition to discourage management from making the move. No luck there, though.
Lack will wear No. 31, his number with the Canucks and Khudobin’s old number with the Canes. Ward has made No. 30 a Carolina Hurricanes fixture.
“From what I understand he’s a great guy and obviously will push (me) and vice versa,” Ward said. “It will be a similar situation to last year. Nothing is given to me. You’ve got to go out there and earn your ice time and right to play.”