RALEIGH, N.C. - As a rule, players with expiring contracts are often the first ones to be shipped out come trade time.
At last year's NHL trade deadline, impending unrestricted free agents such as Ryan Smyth, Bill Guerin, Todd Bertuzzi, and Martin Biron found themselves on new clubs.
This month, Carolina swapped UFAs-to-be Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore to Ottawa for Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves.
By this premise, Aaron Ward, in the last season of a two-year contract worth an annual $2.75 million, would be considered a likely Bruin to be dealt before next Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline.
But the 35-year-old Ward, who has won three Stanley Cup rings, projects to be too valuable a commodity for general manager Peter Chiarelli to give up.
Ward, one of the most vocal players on the team, has shrugged off four injuries - concussion, ankle sprain, broken foot, and throat bruise - to serve as a consistent top-four defenseman on a club that's struggled on the back line lately. Ward has put up a 4-5 -9 line in 46 games (23:03 of ice time last night) despite feeling the effects of his latest injury.
"I don't feel 100 percent comfortable," said Ward, who was jabbed in the throat by Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar last Wednesday, a blow that caused cartilage damage and forced Ward to remain in Pittsburgh overnight. "I've got some wind issues. I'm turning beet-red on the bench."
Ward has blocked a team-high 86 shots and has been credited with 102 hits. He's been a valuable component of coach Claude Julien's box-plus-one defensive system, taking away space in the middle of the ice and playing effectively in the corners when he chases down pucks.
As a veteran who's been traded three times, Ward acknowledges that players can be moved at an instant.
"You get used to that part of the game," said Ward. "It's part of the business."
But he is hoping a fourth trade doesn't happen within the next week.