Joel Ward made extra on his last contract with the Washington Capitals from his post-season exploits with the Nashville Predators and is one of a handful of pending unrestricted free agents who improved their stock in these playoffs.
Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry, Anaheim Ducks winger Matt Beleskey and Capitals teammate Jay Beagle certainly didn't hurt themselves, either.
Ward had three goals, including one game-winner, and six assists in two seven-game series. The Toronto native has 35 points in 53 career Stanley Cup playoff games, a 0.66 point-per-game average.
"He scores the big goals in the big moments, no doubt about that, and he plays big in the big games," agent Peter Cooney said in a phone interview Monday. "I think you want players like that."
Washington general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters Monday in Arlington, Va., that the Capitals played at their highest level during the second-round series against the New York Rangers. Ward was a huge part of that.
"For me, playoffs, you get excited, and when you're into the series something kicks in that you don't want it to end," Ward said last week on the Capitals' exit day.
Like Petry in Montreal, Ward could return to Washington, where he's comfortable with coach Barry Trotz, his teammates and role. But with a US$12-million, four-year deal set to expire, the 34-year-old is due a raise, and Cooney said term was also important.
Petry is sure to get a long contract, assuming he wants it, as a 27-year-old right-handed-shooting defenceman. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said the organization was pleased with how Petry performed since coming over in a trade-deadline deal from Edmonton, so getting him a new deal is on the to-do list.
"He played some big minutes," Bergevin told reporters in Brossard, Que., last week. "I know his strengths, and I think he fits perfect for our team and obviously will be a priority to bring back in Montreal."
Petry averaged over 22 minutes a game in the playoffs. Because P.K. Subban also shoots right, Petry would be a high-end second-pair defenceman for the Habs, but he'll get paid like a first-pair one.
Beleskey's free-agent case is more curious. He had the first 20-plus-goal season of his career but was also included a healthy scratch on occasion. The 26-year-old has five goals in 10 playoff games, good for seventh overall, on Anaheim's second line alongside Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg.
Beagle could be in line for a contract similar to the one former teammate Matt Hendricks got two summers ago (US$7.4 million for four years from the Nashville Predators). Brandon Prust's $10-million, four-year deal with Montreal in 2012 set the precedent for valuable grinders.
In the regular season Beagle, a Calgary native, set new career highs in goals with 10 and points with 20 and won over 56 per cent of his faceoffs. At 29, Beagle is developing into a strong shutdown centre led the playoffs by winning 63.8 per cent of his draws.
Beagle is known as a workout warrior and now has 37 games of playoff experience on his resume. MacLellan would like to keep him from getting to the open market July 1.
"From talking to him, I know he likes it here. He's comfortable here. He's comfortable with the coaching staff, so he'd be an easier one to sign, I would hope," MacLellan told reporters Monday. "(Restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov) is the same thing. He likes it here. He likes his role. He likes the coaching staff.
"A lot of positives with these guys. I think they want to come back, so we're going to work hard to get them back."
Just like with Ward, it'll come at a heavier price. Beagle is in for a raise from the $1 million he made with a $900,000 cap hit this season.
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