By Amanda DiPaolo
Nashville Predators forward Joel Ward believes the Preds have moved forward this past season as a hockey club. But the question is whether Nashville will continue to move forward with or without Ward as a member come next season.
The Predators completed their best ever season when ousted in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals series against Vancouver. A part of the team’s success can be attributed to the consistent play of Ward throughout the Anaheim and Vancouver series. Ward now owns the Predators franchise record for goals and points in a post-season with 7 goals and 13 points.
“We made strides over the year. We all got together and made a pretty good push. We’ll have to go over it in the summer and regroup, just give it an extra little bit over the summer and hopefully have a better result,” he said.
While the product on the ice has made strides, so has the off-ice product. The Predators went from averaging 14 900 fans a game to 16 100 fans. The growth has not been lost on Ward.
“It’s been huge,” the 30 year old said. “A lot of people over the last couple of weeks have been tuning into the Preds. Everybody with the towels and the t-shirts. You can tell it’s a big change around the city and in the building too. Hockey is starting to be put on the map down here in Nashville. We are just excited to be a part of it.”
But will Ward be a part of it next season? Nashville has been a hockey market often characterized as a team that develops talent but is unable to hang on to the talent when it comes to signing players.
“Everyone keeps asking me that,” Ward said about whether or not he will be expecting a big pay raise after his post-season performance. “I’ll have to sit down and chat with my agent and see what the next step going forward is. ”
There will almost certainly be interest in Ward from other teams, but Ward admits that coming back to Smashville is his preference.
“This is the place that gave me a shot. Hopefully I will get an opportunity to come back and stay and be part of this and move forward and hopefully bring the Stanley Cup to Nashville.”
Undrafted into the NHL, Ward played hockey at the University of Price Edward Island in Canada after trying out for the Detroit Red Wing. After earning a university degree, Ward signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Wild, but spend most of his time in Houston of the American Hockey League.
In 2008, Ward signed as a free agent with the Predators. Though not a lock to make the lineup, Ward cracked the opening night roster and has been with the Nashville Predators ever since. Ward made $1.5 million this season. His 2 year contract expires July 1st.
If a contract between the Predators and Ward is not reached by July 1st, Ward will be an unrestricted free agent.
Photo credit: AP
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