RALEIGH, N.C. - This ought to make the Carolina Hurricanes' training camp worth watching: Aaron Ward skating with the player who decked him during the playoffs.
The Hurricanes on Friday reacquired the rugged defenceman who helped them win the 2006 Stanley Cup from the Boston Bruins for forward Patrick Eaves and a fourth-round draft pick next year.
The move makes teammates of Ward and Scott Walker, the player who infamously punched him during the Eastern Conference semifinals. Walker decked Ward late during Game 5 of the series won by Carolina.
Bruins coach Claude Julien called the blow a "sucker punch, but two months later, the quick-witted Ward laughed about the incident while attempting to defuse the situation.
"Tell him I still have practice - I'll get him back at practice," Ward said with a smile. "It's water under the bridge. I'm on his team now. ... There's a lot of emotion in the playoffs, both in the media and playing the game. ... I'll see Scott Walker when he comes in, shake his hand, tell him how grateful I am to be here, how excited I am to play with him, and it'll be past."
The 36-year-old Ward lives in Raleigh during the off-season and spent the past three weeks skating with Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour at a local rink.
He signed a free agent deal with the New York Rangers in 2006 after the Hurricanes won the Cup, then was traded to Boston on Feb., 27, 2007 for defenceman Paul Mara and had nine goals and 17 assists in 150 regular-season games with the Bruins.
"With this trade, our defence really takes shape," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We envision him complementing Joni Pitkanen well as a defensive pairing."
During a conference call, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli praised Ward for his time in Boston.
"He's been a tremendous soldier here," Chiarelli said, "bringing experience, bringing size and strength, bringing a stabilizing presence to our defense and, frankly, I wouldn't have traded him anywhere else but Carolina. That's where his home is and I really do appreciate the time and service and personality Aaron has brought to our organization."
The trade came nine days after Ward attended a news conference at Fenway Park for the official announcement that the Bruins would play the Philadelphia Flyers there on New Year's Day in the NHL's third annual outdoor Winter Classic. He was excited about the prospect of playing there and called the deal "a complete surprise."
Ward said Chiarelli called to notify him of the trade while he was playing golf at a Raleigh-area country club with two members of Kid Rock's band.
He becomes the latest key player from the 2006 championship team to be reacquired by the Hurricanes. Centre Matt Cullen was traded back to Carolina in 2007 after one season with the Rangers, and the club dealt forward Erik Cole to Edmonton before last season before bringing him back in a pivotal deal at the trading deadline.
Ward said Cole sent him a text message that said, "We're getting the band back together."
"You never burn bridges. You embrace all the opportunities that you have with teams," Ward said. "It's always easy to bring a player back when you've had a successful situation. We won a Stanley Cup."
After trading for Eaves, the Bruins placed the 25-year-old right wing on waivers with the purpose of buying him out. He had six goals and eight assists in 74 games last season.
The trade increases the salary cap room for the Bruins. Ward is scheduled to make US$2.5 million next season, the last of his contract. Waiving Eaves provides more cap room.
Phil Kessel, the Bruins leading goal scorer last season, is a restricted free agent and the Bruins could need that extra cap space. Chiarelli said the Bruins would match any offer sheet Kessel receives.
He also said "I would expect that we would add a defenseman," although not necessarily to replace Ward in a pairing with Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara.
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Boston contributed to this report.