Fantasy Take: Blackhawks Sign Ward To One-Year Deal

by Michael Clifford on July 1, 2018


Everything fell apart for Chicago last year once Corey Crawford was injured. His last game was just before the Christmas break, and at that time, the Blackhawks were on pace for 91-92 points. Not enough for the playoffs, but at least in the race.

They finished with 76 points.

In response to the poor goaltending the team received – they had a 32-year old Jeff Glass make his NHL debut and an accountant from the stands play goal – the team solidfied their backup position by… signing the goalie ranks in a distant, distant, last in goals saved above average (GSAA) over the last six years. Cam Ward cost his team 41 goals over six years; the next-closest regular starter was at -27 (data from Corsica).

The deal is one year for $3-million with a full no-trade clause.

There isn’t a lot of analysis needed here on Ward, but here we go:

  • Among 49 goalies with at least 5000 minutes at five-on-five since 2012-13, Ward is last in GSAA.
  • Among those same goalies, he’s 38th in high-danger save percentage.
  • In that sample, he’s last in five-on-five save percentage.
  • By expected save percentage, he’s only slightly bad, coming in 33rd.

That’s what makes this a curious signing by the Blackhawks. Sure, he brings in a veteran backup presence, given his 668 games in the NHL. But goaltending can be difficult to peg without a large sample, and we have a large sample here telling us he’s among the worst, if not the worst, regular goaltender in the NHL.

Maybe they signed him with the hope they can be certain of a .905 save percentage as opposed to whatever literally any other goalie would give them?

Unlike Jonathan Bernier signing in Detroit, Ward goes to the team with the highest pace as determined by shot attempts for added to shot attempts against for total shots that occur in a sample. Without significant improvements defensively, that isn’t really a great landing spot.

Crawford is the workhorse in Chicago. As long as he stays healthy, he probably passes 60 starts this year. Ward landing in a spot where he’s going to be a true backup and where he could face a lot of shots should tank any modicum of fantasy value he had.

It also means Anton Forsberg won't have relevance this year barring an injury. He has one year left on his contract and then maybe he can be back in the NHL as a regular backup. We'll see. 

Now, there’s always a chance he has an Ondrej Pavelec year; that one year he performs very well for fantasy despite years of evidence to the contrary. This is a best-case, not a likely case. The likely case is he gets 20 or so starts and is miserable in most of those. He’s not worth a draft pick in most league setups, relegated to a streaming option for those in dire straits.