It seems a touch pointless to write this now, as Cam Ward was fine in the Winter Classic. He wasn’t great, and perhaps a more athletic goalie would have gotten to Bergeron’s equalizer in the second. But it came on a bad bounce, which is more poor luck than poor play. But it’s the fact that Ward started at all that’s worrying, if only slightly.
This of course could be a case of the Hawks trying to “showcase” Ward in case he can be flogged for a mid-round pick at the deadline. Except teams have 11 years of data on Ward at this point. And if the Hawks had figured anything out with him this season that would lead anyone to believe he’s changed from his Carolina days, then “.888” would be in big, flashing, neon lights to dissuade from that notion. Cam Ward isn’t going anywhere, and if he does it’s because some GM started to drip brain fluid out of their ear and didn’t think much of tossing a 7th-round pick aside. Let’s just say I’m skeptical that was or is the case going forward.
What bothers me, as we’ve repeatedly stated, is that there was no case to start Ward yesterday. Whether the Hawks genuinely believe they can still salvage this season or they’re already turning their eyes to tomorrow, Collin Delia is the choice in either case. And if you think you have to have this game, because it’s your showcase game on national TV and all that, Delia is again the better choice. He’s playing better, he might be the goalie of the future, and on it goes. There’s no equation you can go through that doesn’t have “x = Delia.”
Jeremy Colliton‘s quotes of “guys respecting Ward in the room” and “veteran status” don’t really help much, either. And it’s not only because it’s giving me Dusty Baker “gotta be fair to Holly, dude” flashbacks. Because in his short stint, Colliton has yet to prove he can play hardball with any veteran player aside from Chris Kunitz or Brandon Manning, and that’s batting practice. Cam Ward shouldn’t draw any more water than those two do or did, and yet here we are.
During their streak of incompetence (the second one, in case you were wondering), Colliton never pulled either Crawford or Ward even when they were giving up multiple goals early, and bad ones at times. A goalie-pull isn’t always on the goalie either, and is sometimes used as commentary on how horseshit the skaters have been. That switch was never flipped, though even we said it might look a little awkward for a coach barely in the job to hang Crawford out to dry with all he’s been through. But it certainly was an option to be used, and Colliton never did. And things just got worse. Even Crow’s confidence can be broken. It felt at the time that Colliton didn’t have any answers, or was afraid, or was simply frozen.
So what does that mean for the harder calls that are coming if Colliton can’t even bring himself to sit Ward for yesterday? Gustav Forsling‘s constant nosebleeds will give Coach Cool Youth Pastor some cover when Henri Jokiharju returns from the WJC, but the Brent Seabrook reckoning is coming at some point soon. Does Colliton have the tires to tell that accomplished of a player he’s in a suit for the night? For repeated nights? And that said, what would be the pairings if you sit Forsling? Are you flipping Jokiharju to his off-side to keep the other pairs that are working in tact? Seems a bit much on the kid.
Duncan Keith is still getting the most ice-time, and he was awful yesterday. Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom have taken the hard shifts off of him at least, but they should be creeping up on him in time on ice and they’re not yet. Is it Colliton who will tell Keith he’s a second-pairing player? Do you believe that?
At some point, you have to the coach, no matter your age and experience. The Hawks put Colliton in a near-impossible situation, but that doesn’t mean he can ignore it. Telling Ward to do one would be a nice start, because whatever the players say they know that Delia right now is the better option, and the players want to win every game despite what the team’s aims might be. It would be a good first step to the harder talks and decisions that are coming. But you have to start making these choices first.