Today: Part 1 | Goaltending
Cam Ward’s Conn Smythe-winning performance as most valuable player in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals gave the Carolina Hurricanes enough confidence once the playoffs were over to not re-sign starting goalie Martin Gerber, who set numerous regular-season marks in leading the team to a record of 52-22-8 that season.
Ward’s numbers, in his first year as a number one goaltender, were respectable, but not great. With Gerber playing (albeit in a backup role) for eventual Eastern Conference champs the Ottawa Senators, Ward finished the 2006-2007 campaign with a 30-21-6 record. The 30 wins put him the middle – tied for 15th – among NHL starting goaltenders, and his goals-against average (2.93) and save percentage (.897) were 31st and 33rd in the league, respectively. The net result for the Canes was a 40-34-8 record and a failure to make the post-season.
The struggles Ward had last year were almost understandable. Dealing with his new celebrity (as one of only a handful of rookie goaltenders to win the playoff MVP award), his very short summer (which included his wedding) and a banged-up roster of teammates, a Stanley Cup hangover was almost expected.
This season? Expectations are different. And Ward knows it. So he dedicated himself to an off-season fitness and nutrition regiment that saw him lose more than 20 pounds and – according to teammates who have skated and practiced with Ward – gain a new level of quickness.
With concerns about depth in the team’s defensive corps and nagging questions about the team’s power play struggles from last year, the probability for 2007-08 is that as Ward goes, so go the Canes. Most everyone expects him to go great guns.
Ward will be backed once again by John Grahame, who posted only a 10-13-2 record last year. Grahame’s GAA (2.85) was better than Ward’s, but he didn’t get much goal support from the team and didn’t consistently display the talent he showed in Tampa Bay, where he was exiled after what Lightning Coach John Tortorella thought was too many stretches of poor play. To push Grahame, the Canes traded for goalie Michael Leighton. Leighton played in only six games last year, going 2-2 with Philadelphia (five games) and Nashville (one game). He’s 10-23 in 47 career games and will likely spend most of the season in the minors unless he surprises everyone during training camp, which starts today.