by Kate Shefte
I woke up (at noonish…it’s the summer, don’t judge) and found a news release on my Blackberry. At first I thought it was a practical joke. Some moron had hacked in, copied the format of a news release and sent out nonsense about Boston’s Aaron Ward coming back to Carolina. It wouldn't have been the first time Ward was involved in such shenanigans. But there was just no way. Not possible. Right?
But upon further inspection, it doesn’t look to be an elaborate forgery. In a move so predictable it’s almost comical at this point, former fan favorite and three-time Cup winner Aaron Ward is the latest reacquisition by Jim “New People Phobia” Rutherford, who tends to look to the past for solutions instead of taking a risk on some stranger…who, let’s be honest, might not be very nice!
After four years and two cup finals appearances with Carolina, the ‘Canes opted not to pick up Ward’s contract after the cup win and he spent the last three seasons split between New York and Boston, where he played on the top line with Zdeno Chara and gave the ‘Canes all sorts of hell in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
In exchange, the ‘Canes gave up a fourth round pick and the utterly useless and underachieving Patrick Eaves, whose job became obsolete (like it wasn’t already) when the ‘Canes picked up right winger Tom Kostopoulos. Eaves filled a roster spot during his tenure with the 'Canes, that’s all. I’m sure few, if anyone, will have a problem with Eaves getting the heck out of dodge – except, perhaps, his landlord, if he has one.
So back to Ward. Where will he wind up?
“…we envision him complementing Joni Pitkanen well in a defensive pairing,” Rutherford said in the not-phony press release.
I suppose this infers that he’s solid and physical (which he is) and will clean up Pitkanen’s boo-boos that happen every so often when he decides to get offensive. Ward won’t put up big numbers, though he did score what is probably his most famous goal in Game 7 of the Cup finals, if you’ll take a trip down memory lane with me. He knows the Carolina franchise well, having played under Mo once already, and is excellent with the fans and community. Plus, unless I’m very much mistaken, he kept his home in Carolina and may have been back here for the summer, because he will be available for questioning just over three hours after the trade was announced. That’s pretty convenient.
There are a few question marks. Ward’s getting up there in years – he’s 36. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down (he’s always been a little prone to injury) but he’s not a long-term solution. And not even two weeks ago he stood at Fenway Park in a Boston sweater and talked about how excited he was to play in a Winter Classic. Maybe he’ll shed some light on that later today. Last but certainly not least, how will that first conversation with Scott Walker go after the infamous suckerpunch? "Hey, man - remember that time you almost broke my face? Good times..." might be a decent ice breaker.
At the end of the playoffs, I think I said something along the lines of “Bates Battaglia and Arturs Irbe, we’ll see you soon,” but JR is obviously going for a different vintage. All he needs is to Mike Commodore, Martin Gerber, Mark Recchi and a few others back in town and the band truly will be back together for one last reunion tour.
Oh yeah, and in what is but probably shouldn’t have been secondary news – Carolina finally agreed to terms with Tuomo Ruutu yesterday, locking him up for three years before his arbitration court date could take place. I’d say both sides won this contract battle. Carolina wanted him for several years, Ruutu wanted out sooner so he could stand a chance of making more money on the open market. But Carolina handed out the cash and now he’ll get $11.4 million over three years and become one of the higher-paid players on Carolina’s roster.