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FORMER NHLER JOEL WARD EXPECTED TO RETURN TO PRO HOCKEY, BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU MIGHT THINK

Following the groundbreaking announcement that player agent Brett Peterson has been hired as an Assistant GM on Bill Zito's staff with the Florida Panthers organization, becoming the first Black AGM in NHL history, we may have another exciting announcement on the way later this week, according to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News.

In a write up for the SI.com Hockey News website, Campbell has indicated that there is a strong belief that the AHL's Henderson Silver Knights are on the cusp of hiring former NHL winger Joel Ward in an assistant coach capacity. Though Ward may not exactly be close to competing for a coaching position at the NHL level, this remains a very intriguing opportunity for the 11-season NHL veteran.

Should Ward excel at the pro level in Henderson and work his way into a similar role with an NHL franchise, it could set a career trajectory in motion for the North York, Ontario native to become just the NHL's second Black head coach and first since former NHLer Dirk Graham held the position with the Chicago Blackhawks for 59 games during the 1998-99 season.

This might be putting the cart before the horse a little bit, but it's difficult not to get excited over this sort of progress in the game. It is worth mentioning that there are other coaches of color in and around the league, be it in player development roles, such as goalie coaches or other roles such as video coaches, but none with the playing history that Ward has.

Former NHL assistant coach Paul Jerrard believes that it has been a bit "against the culture" in the past to hire Black coaches, but he was also quick to add that he believes that if there's a candidate that is best suited for the job, teams probably wouldn't question his skills based on his ethnicity.

“If there is a guy that can do the job I don’t think teams would be averse to putting someone of color on the bench,” Jerrard said in an interview with sportskeeda.com back in February. Jerrard himself is a man of color who has found some success as an assistant coach in the NHL.



I think there's obviously still a long way to go in the way of creating a more diverse, inclusive and accessible NHL, but the signs point toward some progress already having been made, with more on the horizon, which is very encouraging. If Ward can land the gig in Henderson with the Silver Knights (the Vegas Golden Knights' AHL affiliate) and execute well in his time there, it may be just a matter of time before we see him return to the NHL, as a coach. I, for one, am hopeful.

Ward suited up in 726 regular season games in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and, most recently, the San Jose Sharks, amassing 133 goals and 304 points over that span. Where he really seemed to flourish was in the playoffs, where he tallied 52 points in just 83 playoff appearances.

Ward retired from professional hockey in 2018. It sure would be nice to see him back, albeit in a coaching capacity.


Source for Jerrard comments: Sportskeeda.com
MIKE ARMENTI
NOVEMBER 18, 2020  (14H00)