The Chicago Blackhawks are expected to sign veteran unresticted free agent goaltender Cam Ward to a one-year contract worth $2.5 million when free agency begins July 1, reports Chris Johnston of Sportsnet.
Jay Zawaski of 670 the Score in Chicago originally reported the Hawks’ interest in Ward.
Chicago was also linked to UFA goalies Jonathan Bernier and Carter Hutton. According to Johnston, Bernier will sign a three-year deal with Detroit and Hutton will head to Buffalo.
Ward, 34, posted a 23-14-4 record with a 2.73 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in 43 games last season with the Carolina Hurricanes as he split time with former Hawk Scott Darling. The 2002 first-round pick also posted a 91.79 5-on-5 save percentage and a goals-saved above average of minus-3.98 as noted by The Athletic’s Scott Powers. Ward has spent his entire NHL career with Carolina, including winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP and Stanley Cup in 2006 as a rookie.
Ward’s $2.5 million salary cap hit will drop the Hawks to $6.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.
“Although his game isn’t nearly as positionally sound as (Corey) Crawford’s is — and from a pure talent perspective, it’s likely that Anton Forsberg has a higher ceiling — the Blackhawks gain NHL experience in spades if they bring Ward on as their No. 2 next year instead of their current unproven options,” The Athletic’s goalie expert Cat Silverman said.
On Wednesday, the Hawks opened up a roster spot for Ward by trading J-F Berube to Columbus for minor-league forward Jordan Schroeder. Berube was 3-6-1 with a 3.78 GAA and .894 save percentage in 13 games last season.
Chicago used Berube, Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass, Collin Delia, and even emergency backup Scott Foster in starter Corey Crawford’s absence after he suffered a season-ending injury before Christmas break. The Hawks have not stated publicly what Crawford’s injury was, but general manager Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville both expect him to be ready for training camp in the fall.
After Ward’s deal becomes official the Hawks will have five netminders under contract again for the 2018-19 season: Crawford, Ward, Forsberg, Delia and Kevin Lankinen. Delia and Forsberg each have one year left on their contracts, while Lankinen has two.
Prospect Ivan Nalimov’s agent, Shumi Babaev, said earlier this month his client will be requesting a trade. Since being drafted in the sixth round in 2014, the 23-year-old has stayed in the KHL in Russia. He posted a .938 save percentage in 23 games last season with Ufa Salavat Yulaev and Vladivostok Admiral.
Chicago has three other goalie prospects in the system: Matt Tomkins (2012 seventh-rounder in AHL), Wouter Peeters (2016 third-rounder with USHL Youngstown) and Alexis Gravel (2018 sixth-rounder with QMJHL Halifax).