UFA Joel Ward still counting on NHL job: 'Stay patient and just be ready'
TORONTO - Waiting isn't Joel Ward's favorite pastime, but it's all he can do right now.
It's late August - professional tryout season - and the 37-year-old right-winger is jobless. An unrestricted free agent since July 1, Ward told theScore Tuesday he's "waiting to hopefully solidify something" before NHL training camps open in mid-September.
The veteran of more than 800 NHL games won't let himself think about life outside the best hockey league in the world. Plan B options, such as playing in Europe or retirement, aren't top of mind.
"Haven't really thought about it," Ward said at the annual BioSteel Camp. "I think we're all fighting for contracts, for sure, so I think the main thing is to stay patient and just be ready."
Ward's three-year, $9.825-million contract with the San Jose Sharks ended in unflattering fashion this spring. First, he was asked to waive his modified no-trade clause at the trade deadline. Then, following an injury-laden regular season in which he posted 12 points in 52 games, head coach Peter DeBoer sat him for all 10 playoff contests.
A good soldier on seven previous NHL playoff squads, Ward admits it was a tough stretch in his professional life.
"I definitely wanted to play ... it was unfortunate, I suffered a pretty tough (shoulder) injury down the stretch and it was hard to get back in (the lineup)," he said. "You always want to be playing, regardless of the sport. You always want to get out there and help your squad win. But, it's part of the game sometimes and it definitely gave me some good fire in the belly to get after it this summer."
Forward Scottie Upshall was in a similar spot during last year's BioSteel Camp. He ultimately signed with his old club, the St. Louis Blues, after Robby Fabbri went down with a season-ending injury in late September. This offseason, Upshall signed a PTO with the Oilers and will fight for a job in camp.
Clubs prioritize speed, skill, and youngsters in the modern NHL. It's abundantly obvious this time of year, when tryout agreements start trickling in. Here's the full PTO list as of Wednesday morning, according to CapFriendly.com:
Now, Ward's willingness to stick it out this late in the summer shouldn't come as a giant surprise. He's been unwanted in the past. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder went undrafted and didn't make the NHL until his mid-20s, but is sitting on 356 career points and more than $25 million in earnings.
He has strung together a notable NHL career, dressing for 809 regular season and playoff games for the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, and Sharks. Last season, Ward was one of only two NHLers who honed their craft in the Canadian University ranks (Derek Ryan was the other).
"Looking back, you just hope to play one (NHL) game," he said of a four-year stint at the University of Prince Edward Island. "One turned into a couple more and it just kept going from there. Once you get a taste of it, you want to stay."
Following four years of major junior, another four in university, and three more in the AHL, Ward found a 10-year home in the NHL. Can he squeeze out one more?