We continue to look ahead to July 1 and the opening of the NHL's free agent market by doing some window shopping in preparation for the Dallas Stars opening up their wallets to bring in some new talent to Dallas. Right now we focus on a player who probably gave himself a significant pay raise with his outstanding playoff work this past spring with Nashville: Joel Ward.
Why he'd fit: Ward is exactly the kind of player that would fit the Dallas Stars and Joe Nieuwendyk's team philosophy, a hard working player at both ends of the ice that has good speed, lots of hustle and by all reports is a complete team player on the ice and in the dressing room. He is a right handed shot and does appear to play a more comfortable game on the right side of the ice, it's Ward's versatility to play well on either wing and do what is asked of him by his coaches that would make him a valuable addition to the forward lineup.
His persistent skating style lends itself well to playing special teams also as has seen time on the Predators power play and penalty kill units over the last few seasons and as we saw in the playoffs this past spring, he was one of the players Predators coach Barry Trotz leaned on in key situations as Joel took his game to a new level.
While his offensive numbers haven't been outstanding, Joel has shown flashes of a very solid offensive game flirting with the 20 goal mark in his rookie campaign in 2008-09 (he scored 17 goals that season) and being better than a point-a-game player in the playoffs with 13 points (7 goals and 6 assists) in 12 games played. He could have the ability to produce a 20 goal and/or a 40 point season if utilized properly and if he continues to improve his game and the Stars could certainly use that kind of production from a 2nd or even 3rd line winger no matter what side we're talking about.
Why it won't work: Even at a nice size of 6 foot 1 inch and 218 pounds and a solid frame of a body, Joel's physical game isn't as good as one would assume it would be given how quick and tenacious he is and given that the Stars are built to be a team that is supposed to be "hard to play against" Ward may find himself looking more out of place on a lineup already full of tenacious players (Ott, Morrow, Benn..) that do hit.
His offensive ability as mentioned could improve but then again it could stay right where it is and with the last three seasons in Nashville showing a declining trend in not only goals but points overall, it's a pretty big gamble to make in hoping his numbers improve.
Ward earned 1.5 million last season with the Preds and probably wasn't looking at much of a raise until his outstanding playoff performance which in addition to competing bids from other clubs looking for a good two-way forward may have pushed the asking price anywhere from 2 million a season to 3 or even a shade under 4 million per year. There are many more examples of players who broke out during the playoffs, got a big time payday during the summer and then fizzled back to below-par status the very next season than there are of players who broke out, got the big raise and then continued to shine.
Final verdict: Stars fans who maybe had their sights set on a player like Ryan Jones of the Edmonton Oilers only to be disappointed when he re-signed with the Oil should find a player like Joel Ward a pretty suitable replacement. Ward is only 30 years old and past seasons as well as these past playoffs have shown that he can be a very valuable 2nd or 3rd line winger. The question marks though remain: Was his playoff performance a flash-in-the-pan and can the Stars really afford to overpay for a forward who trends and past history suggest may not be worth the raise in money he'll get this summer. If the Stars can get him locked up around anywhere from 3 million to 3.5 million a year over two or three seasons then it may be worth the time as at the very least he'll be a good locker room guy and hard worker on the ice. Anymore than that amount though and it may be better for the Stars to look elsewhere.