|Not an offensive player.|
As I wrote last week, I belive that the player best suited for that job on the current team is Mike Knuble. But since many people I have spoken to think that Ward deserves a chance on the top line on his new team, I felt compelled to share why I feel otherwise.
Joel Ward is not an offensive-minded player, no matter what his 2011 playoff numbers are. No doubt, seven goals and 13 points in 12 games is impressive, but it is also an incredibly small sample size. In his career, Ward has never topped 17 goals, and his goal output has been trending downwards since his rookie year (when he scored 17), as he only scored 10 last season.
Yes, the quality of the guys he was playing with in Nashville was much lower than what he will see in the District, but he's 30 years old now, and his skill set is not going to drastically improve just because he's on a different team. That's not how it works.
But wait - Mike Knuble was 30 years old when he had his breakout season. So that mean's Ward should as well, right?
Unfortunately, not. Look, I would love it if Joel Ward suddenly became a Mike Knuble-type player, because with Ward's defensive ability, that kind of hybrid would be a bargain for $3 million per season. But Knuble's growth, while totally out of the blue, is certainly an example of the exception, not the rule. NHL players just don't get better after age 30. Yes, there are certainly players like Mike Modano and Martin St. Louis who had marginally higher point totals after age 30, but those guys were offensive stars to begin with. Expecting Ward to be another Knuble is simply unrealistic.
Ward is not an offensive star, he is a defensive one. There is no reason to try and make Ward something he is not when there are already two guys capable of filling that role on the roster, one of whom has been doing it successfully for the last two calendar years. There is no need to make the first line more defensive, either: top lines need to score. No elite NHL team has a player like Ward on their top line.
Once again, this is not an indictment of Ward. He's a great player for what his role is...and that role is not offense. If it comes, great. If not, it's really not the end of the world. Put Joel Ward on the third line and let him shut down the other team with his forechecking, and everyone will be happy.