Tag:Roman Hamrlik
Posted on: February 27, 2012 5:53 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 6:07 pm
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NHL Trade deadline winners and losers

The Nashville Predators were the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline's biggest winners. (Getty)

By: Adam Gretz

It shouldn't be a surprise that Monday turned out to be, for the most part, a quiet day as the 3 ET trade deadline passed.

Increased parity around the league and the fact nearly every team in the NHL still thinks it has a chance to make the playoffs this season reduced the number of true sellers to no more than four or five (If that). That, of course, made it nearly impossible to strike many impact deals, not to mention the sky-high prices teams were apparently putting on their players.

In the end, Rick Nash is still a Columbus Blue Jacket. Steve Ott is still a Dallas Star.  Roman Hamrlik and Mike Knuble are still Washington Capitals. Ryan Suter is still a Nashville Predator.

And speaking of the Predators, if they wanted to send a message to Suter and his partner in crime on the blue line, Shea Weber, not to mention the rest of the organization, the fan base and the NHL as a whole that they're ready to start going for it, they certainly did so on Monday.

Or attempted to, anyway.

The Predators were one of the busiest teams in the NHL over the past week, and after acquiring Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens last week for a couple of draft picks, they made two of the biggest moves on Monday by acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn from the Canadiens for two more draft picks, and then grabbed Paul Gaustad and a draft pick from the Buffalo Sabres for a first-round pick.

The Gaustad trade is a bold one. Perhaps even a little crazy given the price they paid for a role player that also happens to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. But he's a valuable player that is going to help, and now that everything has settled the Predators are a deeper, better team than they were at this time last week.

As general manager David Poile said "These trades have certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year."
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Winners

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings big trade came earlier in the week when they landed  Jeff Carter from the Columbus Jackets, giving the team the goal-scoring help it desperately needed, and reuniting him with his long-time teammate, Mike Richards. As I pointed out the night of the deal, the Kings were able to acquire Richards and Carter over the past year in two separate trades that did not require them to give up any of their own franchise, core players, which is pretty big score.

Buffalo Sabres: When word surfaced early on Monday that the asking price for Gaustad would be a first-round draft pick, there was some disbelief, as well as the assumption that as the day progressed that price would drop. The Sabres didn't back down from their demands and ended up getting the first-round pick they wanted for a player that had chance to lose for nothing over the summer.

They also addressed their need for young talent down the middle by striking what was perhaps the biggest deal of the day, sending Zach Kassian to the Vancouver Canucks for Cody Hodgson.

Minnesota Wild: In what was simply a hockey trade that saw two teams swap different types of defensemen the Oilers shipped Tom Gilbert to Minnesota in exchange for Nick Schultz. The Oilers traded an offensive-minded player for a defensive one, the Wild did the exact opposite, but ended up picking up the better player. Gilbert is going to help Minnesota a lot more than Schultz will help Edmonton.

Ottawa Senators: Saturday's addition of goaltender Ben Bishop is one of those deals that could sneak under the radar but provide a big return. Bishop is a highly regarded prospect and with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak filling the position for the foreseeable future in St. Louis, Bishop wasn't going to get much of an opportunity. He might get it in Ottawa, especially in the short-term now that Craig Anderson is sidelined, and the Senators were able to get him without giving up much in return. Solid addition at a fair price at the right time.

Losers

Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets: The most shocking development to come out of the Rick Nash drama on Monday wasn't that he didn't get traded. For all of the rumors and speculation that followed his name over the past week, it's not a huge surprise that he's still a member of the Blue Jackets on Monday evening. The insanity really started to kick in when.general manager Scott Howson admitted in his Monday afternoon press conference that Nash initially approached the team and asked for a trade, putting the entire process in motion.

Why Howson would admit this is a mystery, but it's becoming pretty obvious that even though Nash will finish this season in Columbus, he's probably not going to be there at the start of next season. Especially now that his (current) general manager pretty much tossed him in front of the bus.

The only question that remains is whether or not Howson will be the man to make the inevitable trade over the summer. And given the return Columbus received on its two trades this past week, selling off Antoine Vermette and Jeff Carter for what amounts to Jack Johnson and some magic beans, not to mention the way he fumbled the Nash situation helping to put a nice bow on a season that only seems to get worse, it's worth asking who will be making that call from the general manager's office.

Of course, Nash isn't completely without blame in this mess either. His agent commented over the weekend that it would be best for a trade to be done sooner rather than later, and if Nash himself were really that desperate to get out of Columbus he wouldn't have limited the Jackets' potential trade partners by only offering to waive his no-trade clause for a short-list of teams, and one that his agent claims will not grow over the summer.

This appears to be a no-win situation for Columbus and its fans.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks goaltending and defense has been a sore spot this season, and their only major move was to add Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets. Not sure if that's going to be enough.

Carolina Hurricanes: After re-signing Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason, two popular names in trade speculation over the past month, the Hurricanes did not deal Bryan Allen or Jaroslav Spacek, two players that are eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season, which means they could possibly walk out the door for no return. It's still possible that one (or both) can be re-signed, which could be exciting ... if you're interested in keeping together a team that's currently 14th in the Eastern Conference. 

Teams that stayed quiet

Pittsburgh Penguins: For the first time under general manager Ray Shero the Penguins did not make a move on, or near, the NHL's trade deadline. With the way the team is playing right now and the makeup of its roster, with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal leading the way, a move wasn't really needed. This team is playing well enough as it is, doesn't appear to have many holes and looks like a team that can be a favorite and top contender for the Stanley Cup.

But the mindset around Pittsburgh seems to be that the lack of a move is a positive sign that Sidney Crosby could be on the verge of a return, or that he will eventually be "the big addition" for the roster. That's all well and good, and if it works out that way, fantastic. But assuming anything right now regarding Crosby is a major stretch. Nobody knows for sure when he'll be back, and it's worth pointing out that his last return lasted all of 10 games. Still a lot of uncertainty around that entire situation.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals were expected to be one of the busiest teams on Monday, especially after their decision to move center Nicklas Backstrom to the long-term injured list, opening up a pretty significant amount of salary cap space ahead of the deadline.

In the end the Capitals did nothing, which seems to be a pretty big shock around the NHL. But is it?

The Capitals could have certainly used a center, but with the way this team has looked for much of the season it's hard to imagine there being a move out there that was going to help this team get over the hump this year. Why give up significant long-term assets to chase after the No. 7 or 8 playoff spot when a deep postseason run doesn't look like it's a legitimate possibility?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 23, 2012 2:05 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 2:26 pm
 

Caps' Hamrlik questions Dale Hunter after scratch

Hamrlik has been statistically much better with Hunter than Boudreau. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals are imploding right before our very eyes. It's getting downright nasty in the nation's capital.

The most recent -- but check back in an hour -- development in How the Capitals Turn concerns veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik. On the same day that rumors started to spread that he was on the trading block, coach Dale Hunter had Hamrlik as a healthy scratch in the team's 5-2 loss to the Senators on Wednesday night.

Before the game Hunter gave his reasoning to the Capitals media, explaining why Hamrlik was joining them in the press box.

"We need him playing better defensively," Hunter said. "He's a defensive defenseman and the way we mark scoring chances [against] he's been involved in too many of them. That's why he was sitting out and that's why [Jeff] Schultz was sitting out before him.

"[Hamrlik] is backing in way too much. He's letting [forwards] come through and they're hitting the second tier. Sitting out is a humbling experience. We all went through it. If you played hockey or any sport you sat out. You've just got to go to practice and work hard like he did today. Watch video and learn from it and when you get the chance play well."

Hamrlik was asked about the words of the coach and the scratch after the team's skate on Thursday and, well, he wasn't very coy. Quotes courtesy of Sky Kerstein of 106.7 the Fan in D.C.

Hamrlik said he hasn't talked to Hunter on why he didn't play, asked why he might not of been in "I don't know, you should ask him. You should ask him [Hunter] about the penalties because when he played I think he [Hunter] make lots of penalties in himself so he should know better.

"I know I take bad penalty, but if that's reason I didn't play, but it's his decision"

Well then. I'm not sure how exactly that compares to Alex Ovechkin's infamous words behind Bruce Boudreau's back earlier this season that many think played a massive role in Boudreau's dismissal, but a player almost challenging a coach publicly? Gee, if Boudreau lost control of the locker room, what does that say for Hunter?

As for the trade rumors, Hamrlik shot down any notion that he wanted out. From CSN Washington:

"Nothing I can do about it. I'm happy to be here and do my job. I don't have control over that. I hope I stay here and make the team better and help them make the playoffs. I don't have reason to leave."

Adding to the drama was Hunter's frank assessment of the play of Tomas Vokoun, who was pulled for the second consecutive game in favor of Michal Neuvirth.

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“Tomas would like a few of them back. He wasn’t as sharp as he should’ve been and it was in the back of our net,” the Caps’ coach said. “We were playing well and it’s one of these things where you get deflated. ... We outchanced them, but we need our goaltending better and Tomas wasn’t sharp tonight.

“Just can’t get off to a bad start like that. If somebody’s not playing as well as they should, you have to block more shots and cover up for him more.”

Vokoun's agent Allen Walsh, never shy to stick up for his clients, added a little to the drama in an oh-so-subtle way.

“I’m not going to comment directly on what someone may have said after a game,” Walsh said in a text message to the Washington Times. “I will point out though that hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.”

But Vokoun didn't add fuel to any fire, saying it's not personal and he'd prefer too that his stats were better.

On top of all of this, Alex Ovechkin is day to day with a lower-body injury and didn't suit up on Wednesday in Ottawa.

When the Caps hired Hunter to replace Boudreau earlier this season it wasn't perfectly clear but it sure sounded like it was for the rest of the season and then they'd go from there. Neither the coach or the franchise knew how the fit would go. It's kind of safe to assume now that Hunter's odds of returning to the OHL London Knights are going up by the day.

By the way, the Caps are still only two points out of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Thanks, Southeast Division.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 1, 2012 5:55 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2012 7:23 pm
 

Canadiens sign Josh Gorges for 6 years

By: Adam Gretz

The Montreal Canadiens blue line has been crushed by injuries all season. One player that's avoided the injury bug has been shutdown defenseman Josh Gorges, and his play was rewarded on Sunday afternoon with a brand new six-year contract that's worth a reported $23.4 million dollars. The deal also reportedly includes a complete no-trade clause in the first year of the deal, and a limited one over the following five years.

In 39 games this season he's scored one goal to go with nine assists, but offense isn't necessarily what his game is about. Gorges generally plays against the oppositions best players and logs the toughest assignments on the Montreal blue line. That role has expanded quite a bit this season given the absence of players like Andrei Markov, as well as the departure of Roman Hamrlik over the summer in free agency.

His play this season defensively has been one of the few bright spot for a Montreal team that's already replaced its head coach (as well as assistant coach Perry Pearn) and currently sits in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, already eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

At the age of 27 Gorges is still probably in the prime of his career for at least a few more years, and the $3.8 million average annual salary represents a $1.3 million increase from the $2.5 million he makes this season. 

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 5, 2011 5:39 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 5:59 pm
 

Why the Capitals kept Boudreau

BB1By: Adam Gretz

When the Washington Capitals were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs last season there was a belief that head coach Bruce Boudreau could be the person to take the fall for yet another disappointing -- and short -- postseason run.

For all of the regular season success the Capitals have experienced since Boudreau took over behind the bench, relieving Glen Hanlon early in the 2007-08 season, the team has managed to win just two playoff series in four trips, both of which came against the New York Rangers.

Given that the Capitals have finished in the top-three of the Eastern Conerence in each of the past three seasons, much more has been expected.

Even so, the Capitals front office showed its faith in Boudreau this offseason and brought him back for the 2010-11 season, and this week general manager George McPhee told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times why he made that decision. For one, McPhee said that teams in the NHL change coaches way too often -- and he's right about that. Teams go through them like they're old socks -- and that when a team comes up short the knee jerk reaction is to always go right to the coach.

More from McPhee, via Whyno...
“I look at a coach who’s got the best winning percentage in the regular season of any coach in the history of the league. No coach has had a better record after this many games. He’s won four straight division titles, he’s won a Presidents’ Trophy, he’s won two Eastern Conference titles — pretty good record. It doesn’t always go your way in the playoffs, but as long as you’re getting there and playing well and competing, that’s what we want.”
I'm not sure what the two Eastern Conference titles is a reference to, but the overall point is that McPhee has complete faith in his head coach and is happy with the impressive regular season mark. The Capitals are once again a preseason favorite to reach the Stanely Cup Final, especially after adding Tomas Vokoun, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik this summer to go with their already deep roster, which will once again put a target on Boudreau if the team falls short of expectations.

Either way, his return to the Capitals is great news for local businesses in the Washington D.C. area, including Hadeed Carpet, which is using Boudreau in some amazingly awkward commercials, like the one featured below, which comes via Capitals Blog Russian Machine Never Breaks (and they have more, including outtakes).


Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 22, 2011 4:16 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 5:48 pm
 

Breakout players: JVR ready to shine in Philly

Vanr1

By: Adam Gretz

There are plenty of new faces in the Philadelphia Flyers locker room this season, and they are going to have the difficult task of replacing the offensive production that belonged to several of last season's top-scorers that are no longer with the team, including Mike Richards (traded), Jeff Carter (traded) and Ville Leino (free agency). Players like Danny Briere and Claude Giroux are still there to help lead the charge, and big things are expected from 2007 No. 2 overall pick James van Riemsdyk.

The 22-year-old van Riemsdyk is entering his third season in the league and signed a brand new six-year, $26.5 million contract extension earlier this summer, coming off a 21-goal, 19-assist season for the Flyers in 2010-11. Solid numbers for a second-year pro, but it was during the playoffs where he really started to excel. Considering the expensive new deal he signed a couple of months ago, it's pretty obvious the Flyers expect him to continue his development and become a top player in a suddenly re-tooled Flyers lineup. And it's something he should be able to do.

Van Riemsdyk's breakout started during last year's playoffs when he played top-line minutes against Buffalo and Boston, typically against their best players, and finished tied for the team lead in playoff goals with seven. Along with the goals he was arguably the Flyers' best overall forward in the playoffs, making an impact every time he stepped on the ice, even with star players like Richards and Carter still on the roster.

That should continue to be the case in 2011.

He's going to be asked to take on a larger role for the Flyers this season, and as he showed in last year's playoffs, when the game becomes a little faster and goals a little harder to come by, he is more than capable of handling that assignment. Thirty-or-more goals shouldn't be out of the question.

Four more players, in no particular order, that could be on the verge of a breakout season…

OshieT.J. Oshie, Blues A former first-round pick by the Blues in 2005, Oshie has had his ups and downs in St. Louis, including a suspension last season following an unexcused absence. He's reportedly shown up to Blues camp in top shape and has apparently dedicated himself to becoming more of a pro. Talent has never been an issue for the 24-year-old Oshie, and now that he appears to be in great shape and committed to becoming a top player, a breakout season could be right around the corner.


SubbanP.K. Subban, Canadiens With Andrei Markov's status for the start of the season up in the air due to a setback in his recovery from a knee injury, as well as the departure of Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski, Subban could quickly become the top offensive option for the Canadiens along the blue line. And the flashy 22-year-old definitely has the tools to make a huge impact. He's kind of a polarizing player at this point in his career -- among both fans and players -- and seems to have that "love him or hate him" attraction, but there's no denying the ability and upside. As a rookie he scored 14 goals to go with 24 assists, which is impressive enough, but he's capable of doing even more damage to opponents.

WilsonColin Wilson, Predators There is perhaps no team in the NHL that relies on its farm system more than the Nashville Predators. This year's team has a couple of interesting youngsters including Nashville native Blake Geoffrion, who scored six goals in 20 gameas last year, and Craig Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2009 that had a sensational summer at the World Championships and the recent prospects tournament. There's also former first-round pick Colin Wilson who has a ton of talent but has yet to fully realize it at the NHL level. Entering the final year of his entry level contract, this could be the season the 21-year-old forward becomes the player the Predators anticipated when they selected him at the top of the 2008 draft.


CarlsonJohn Carlson, Capitals Like Subban, Carlson is coming off an excellent rookie season with the Capitals and has All-Star level potential. He already has experience playing top-pairing minutes -- he also saw time in every situation, including the power play and the penalty kill  as a rookie -- and is loaded with offensive ability. One of the top young defensemen in the NHL and figures to be a core player for one of the best teams in the NHL.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.


Posted on: September 15, 2011 9:51 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 10:07 pm
 

Markov's knee is still a concern

Markov

By: Adam Gretz

The Montreal Canadiens took a rather large gamble this summer when they signed veteran defenseman Andrei Markov to a three-year, $17.2 million contract extension.

It wasn't a gamble because he isn't worth that type of money in the current market as a point-producing defenseman and power play quarterback, but because he's entering his mid-30's and has missed significant playing time in each of the past two seasons, suffering two torn ACL's, the most recent of which cost him all but seven games of the 2010-11 regular season.

It appears that he's had a bit of a setback in his rehab according to Tony Mariano of the Team 990 Radio, and had to have some water drained from his knee three weeks ago.

The setback was reportedly a result of overtraining, which obviously means he needs to now dial it back a notch and take things a little slower. Given that he just signed a contract that's paying him over $5 million per season and has appeared in just 52 regular season games the past two years, the possibility of him not being ready for the start of the season has to be a concern for the Canadiens given how much he means to their defense and power play.

When he's on the ice Markov runs Montreal's power play, logs between 22 and 24 minute of ice-time per game and is one of the top scoring defensemen in the league. During the 2009-10 season, when he appeared in just 45 games, he recorded 34 points, which followed a season that saw him put up a career-high 64 points, a mark that was second among all NHL defensemen that season, trailing only Washington's Mike Green (73).

In his absence last season the Canadiens top power play options on their blue line were P.K. Subban, James Wisniewski (acquired from the Islanders in late December) and Roman Hamrlik. As a group they were good enough to help the team finish with the seventh best power play mark in the NHL (in previous years with Markov in the lineup on a regular basis they were at the top of the NHL). The problem for this season is Wisniewski and Hamrlik have since moved on to new teams, with Wisniewski going to Columbus and Hamrlik signing with the Capitals. If Markov is not ready for the start of the season that would place almost all of the workload on the 22-year-old -- and extremely talented -- Subban to lead the power play.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: August 25, 2011 7:08 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 7:21 pm
 

Can Neuvirth push Vokoun for starting job?

NeuvirthBy: Adam Gretz

Not that we know these things before even one game is played during the 2011-12 season, but the Washington Capitals addition of free agent goaltender Tomas Vokoun on a one-year, $1.5 million contract has the potential to be one of the best deals of the summer.

For the past four years he's been the proverbial big fish in the small pond, quietly going about his business as the best player -- and one of the best goalies in the NHL -- on one of the worst teams in the league. He's finished in the top-10 in save percentage in each of the past five seasons, including four finishes in the top-five, all while usually facing over 32 shots per game.

His addition was just one part of a busy summer of activity for the Capitals, which included the additions of forwards Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, defenseman Roman Hamrlik, as well as the trade of one of their young goalies, Semyon Varlamov, to the Colorado Avalanche for a future first-round pick. It's already been assumed that Vokoun will be the Capitals' starting goaltender when the season begins, which means last year's No. 1, Michal Neuvirth, will be pushed to backup duty. Still, that's not stopping him from enterinng camp with the intentiions of taking back his starting gig, as he told Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post on Thursday.

From the Post:
Coach Bruce Boudreau has said he anticipates that Vokoun will start the season as the Capitals’ No. 1 option in net. But Neuvirth said Thursday that he's conceding nothing.

“Tomas might be one of the top three goalies in the league,” Neuvirth said. “So it's a big opportunity for me to show I can be as good as this guy or even better. Obviously, I want to play the most games and I still want to be the number one goalie.”

Reminded of Boudreau's comments, Neuvirth fired back, “It's still summer. We still have three weeks until training camp. Whatever Bruce is saying, it doesn't bother me. We'll see what happens in training camp. Obviously, Tomas is a great goalie and I respect him.”
Neuvirth is certainly right about one thing: it is still summer and, at this point, starting jobs are most certainly still up for grabs, but it's going to be difficult for him to reclaim his No. 1 job this season, if that even matters.

Whether he has the "No. 1" role or not, Neuvirth is still going to get his share of playing time this season (even if it's a decrease from last season), and it's important to keep in mind that he's still only 23 years old and represents the future of the position in Washington (and don't forget, the Capitals still have Braden Holtby in the system as well).

If there's a concern for Vokoun at this point it could probably go back to the part about him playing the past four seasons on one of the worst teams in the NHL and not having to deal with the pressures of postseason hockey. Despite playing 12 years in the NHL with the Predators and Panthers, the 35-year-old Vokoun has appeared in just 11 playoff games. Though, it's also worth pointing out that he's played well in those games -- all with the Predators -- recording a .922 save percentage.

A little competition at this point in his career shouldn't hurt Neuvirth, and there's not a team in the league that is going to worry about having too many good goaltenders that can start for them, especially when they're only taking up a combined $2.6 million salary cap space.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: July 6, 2011 8:42 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2011 9:09 am
 

Joel Ward discusses his role in Washington

By: Adam Gretz

The Washington Capitals made a strong effort to become a better defensive team during the 2010-11 season, allowing just 197 goals (a 36-goal improvement from the previous year), the fourth-best mark in the NHL. Based on their moves this summer, they could be an even tougher team to score against in 2011. Not only did they re-sign Brooks Laich, a strong defensive presence up front, to go along with the free agency additions of Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun, they also added one of the best shutdown forwards in the NHL in 30-year-old Joel Ward, formerly of the Nashville Predators. He was signed to a four-year contract on July 1.

A player who can easily be described as a "late bloomer," Ward has never been one to light up the scoreboard with huge goal or point totals, but he has been counted on to play some of the toughest minutes in the NHL against the toughest competition in the toughest situations.

He was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with me on Wednesday evening to discuss the free agency process, his role on the ice and his long journey to the NHL.

Adam Gretz: What was the July 1 free agency process like for you? Did you have a list of teams that you had in your mind that you wanted to play for, did you simply wait for your agent's phone to ring at 12:01 and sort through the offers, or was it a combination of the two?

Joel Ward: I'd say it was a little bit of both. I had a couple of teams in mind that I thought I'd like to pursue and Washington was definitely up there, so I was pretty excited when they contacted my agent. I was hoping to land a spot there if I could and things worked out so I'm pretty excited about the new opportunity.

Gretz: What was it about Washington that attracted you? The organization, the staff, the style … perhaps it was watching them on 24/7 last year?

Ward: (laughs) It was a combination of all of those things. I definitely watched 24/7 and I liked the makeup of the team, and I thought that was a really good program to get an outsiders perspective. But again, I just liked the makeup of the team. It's a very high powered offense and at times more of a defensive style, and it's a bit of a different look than what I was used to in Nashville. I thought making the playoffs every year and giving themselves an opportunity was always going to be a fun spot to be in to try and hoist the Stanley Cup.

Gretz: Whenever a player signs a contract, whether it be re-signing with a team or signing a deal in free agency, the first thing we always do is say, OK, this guy scored this many goals last year and now he's making this much money. If you were to do that with a player like yourself, you kind of miss what your real value is. In Nashville you were always playing against the other teams top line, starting in the defensive zone. You were playing tough minutes. You're not out there to score 40 goals. Your job is to stop the other teams 40 goal scorer from scoring.

Ward: That's exactly it. We did it a little different in Nashville with a very defensive style. I would ask people if they could guess who our leading goal-scorer was and a lot of people would be a little confused by it (it was Sergei Kostitsyn), but it's just a different mix.

We had a different collection of guys that stepped up in different situations, and that's the way we did it there. My game is just to be defensively sound, pay attention to detail and get the puck up the ice. I was very excited to get that opportunity in Nashville. I take pride in playing at both ends of the rink and to be good at every position. You don't have to be good at one spot, just try to do everything well and hope that keeps up and creates more ice-time for yourself.

Last year I started learning face-offs and doing a little bit of that and working in the defensive zone and different areas in coverage, and it kind of helped a lot. It was definitely a learning curve, but I think I became better as the year went on with my responsibilities in my own end. And again, offensively if you can get the puck out of the zone, which I take pride in along the boards, it creates opportunities for your linemates for offensive chances.

Gretz: Is that something you learn early on that, OK, as much as I want to I'm probably not going to score 50 goals, so I better make sure I can contribute in as many other areas as I can?

Ward: You're right. It's no secret, I'm not going out there to score 50, but then again, who is? Not many guys are doing that. In order to succeed in this league you just have to go out there every night and consistently try to work on the skills you do have. I've kind of learned playing the defensive side of things it can create offensive chances. I just take pride on the walls and trying to get open for my d-man for that outlet pass and try to make plays off the wall as opposed to just shooting it out. It's something I've been doing for a while now, and it's something I want to bring to Washington and try to win over the fans and say, 'Hey, I'm here to win games and I'm here to compete.'

Gretz: You've developed a reputation as being a "big-game" player, a guy that raises his level of play in the playoffs. That's a pretty good reputation to have in this league -- especially when it comes to free agency -- because every team wants a guy who plays his best in the biggest situations.

Ward: It's playoff hockey. It's a fun time of year. You get in the playoffs, and it's a fresh start, and regardless of who you're playing against you just try to stay in the moment as best you can. I mean, who wouldn't want to win the Stanley Cup? That's my attitude, I just want to win, and I'm sure everybody else does, and you just go out there and try to execute and work hard and hope positive things happen.

I'm just really excited about the opportunity here in Washington, and the team they have here, and hopefully I can bring a little bit more to help out. It's just a fun time of year to be in the playoffs. You watch the Boston-Vancouver series, you kind of wish you were there. I remember just kind of staring at the TV watching as Boston was skating around with the cup, and you wish that can be you, and I think I gave myself a better opportunity to do that here in Washington.

Gretz: Washington really seemed to shift its style last year and became a lot more defensive. They scored fewer goals and allowed a lot fewer as well. Obviously, you're a shutdown type of guy up front, so it would appear that your skill set would really fit in well with what they're doing there.

Ward: Definitely. That's what we did down in Nashville the past couple of years; we were a tight defensive group and tried to feast on turnovers and opportunities. Playing in a system like that definitely benefits, and I'm ready to learn whatever system I have to play. I'll definitely know my role when I'm out there and try to provide the best opportunity for my linemates to create chances. You know, defensive hockey isn't just staying in your own zone and defending. If you're playing in the oppositions side of the ice, hey, that's less time you have to play in your zone. More attack zone is the way I look at it defensively. Just try to keep the puck in the other team's end cycling and creating more opportunities.

Gretz: Your journey to the NHL is pretty fascinating. You were undrafted, you've played roller hockey, you've played college hockey in Canada, various minor leagues … and here you are now. I think there's a lesson in there that goes beyond hockey, kind of, whatever you want to do, keep going, keep doing it, keep working at it .. a never give up type of thing. When you were going through all of that, did you ever imagine that you would be in a position where NHL teams would be lining up to try and sign you on the first day of free agency?

Ward:It's funny you say that. I will always tell everyone I think I've played every type of hockey there is on the face of the planet. I think it kind of made me humble, playing in the different leagues. I went to a Canadian University and graduated with my sociology degree, so it's definitely been a long road, but I've always wanted to play in the National Hockey League. Growing up in Toronto, you're always watching the Maple Leafs, so as a kid in this area, you're always looking for an opportunity. It's been a long road for myself and my family to this point, but the next step now is to try and go deep in the playoffs and try to do some damage.

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