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Ward shipped to Hurricanes

Report: Morris signed by Bruins

AARON WARDDue $2.5 million AARON WARDDue $2.5 million
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / July 25, 2009

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Aaron Ward filled a host of roles over two-plus seasons in Boston, including defensive partner for Zdeno Chara, punching bag for Scott Walker, and black-and-blue warrior with no fear of placing himself in front of pucks.

Yesterday, the 36-year-old Ward fulfilled his final Black-and-Gold obligation by becoming a cap casualty.

The Bruins traded Ward, due $2.5 million in 2009-10, to Carolina, where he won a ring in 2006, for former Boston College star Patrick Eaves and a 2010 fourth-round pick. The Bruins then placed Eaves on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out the two years and $3.1 million remaining on the wing’s contract.

If Eaves goes unclaimed (he would carry a $258,333 buyout number) by today’s noon deadline, the Bruins will trim $2,241,667 from their 2009-10 books by making the trade, giving them enough space to pursue a top-four defenseman via trade or free agency. The Bruins would have approximately $4.6 million remaining under the $56.8 million ceiling.

“I’m looking at another defenseman,’’ confirmed general manager Peter Chiarelli, adding that he expected a deal to take place shortly.

Last night, TSN of Canada reported the Bruins signed free agent defenseman Derek Morris to a one-year, $3.3 million contract. Brad Devine, Morris’s agent, declined to comment and Chiarelli was unavailable for comment.

The 30-year-old Morris, acquired by the Rangers at last year’s trade deadline from Phoenix, recorded eight assists in 18 games with the Rangers. He is a righthanded shot with power-play presence.

Ward’s salary was too rich for a stay-at-home defenseman with a history of injuries. He appeared in 65 games each of the last two seasons, but played with a cracked tailbone, sprained ankle, and charley horse, and dressed when he shouldn’t have. Ward’s cap hit, combined with Boston’s snug fit against the ceiling, made him the odd man out.

By trading Ward, however, the Bruins are significantly weaker on defense. Dennis Wideman could be a possible partner for Chara. Currently, Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart are considered third-pairing defensemen. Johnny Boychuk is on a one-way, $500,000 contract (it would not make sense financially to pay him half a million dollars to play in Providence), indicating he will most likely will be with the big club. But the 25-year-old Boychuk, last season’s AHL Defenseman of the Year, has only made five NHL appearances.

Last season, Ward averaged 19:01 of ice time per game (fourth behind Chara, Wideman, and Andrew Ference), blocked 124 shots (second to Wideman), and threw 151 hits (second among defensemen to Chara).

“He’s been a tremendous soldier here,’’ said Chiarelli. “He brought experience, size and strength, and a stabilizing presence to the defense. Frankly, I wouldn’t have traded him anywhere else but Carolina, because that’s where his home is. I do appreciate the time, service, and personality Aaron brought to the organization.’’

Yesterday afternoon, Chiarelli didn’t elaborate when asked if he wanted to sign or trade for a defenseman, and didn’t specify whether he preferred a puck mover or defensive-minded blue liner. Remaining UFAs include Mathieu Schneider and Sergei Zubov, who are more offensive-minded than Ward, but Schneider and Zubov have limitations. Schneider, 40, is coming off shoulder surgery. Zubov, 39, appeared in only 10 games last season because of a hip injury.

Because Ward was a leader, physical presence, and dependable partner for Chara, it stands to reason the Bruins would want to upgrade their defense significantly, not just find a replacement. Miscommunication between Chiarelli and Toronto GM Brian Burke busted up a package that would have sent Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs for Tomas Kaberle. The sides could revisit the deal, considering Toronto signed UFA defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who could take over Kaberle’s puck-moving responsibilities.

While the Bruins now have more space in their quest to re-sign Kessel, landing a defenseman is the higher priority. Kessel and the Bruins are not believed to be close on an agreement.

“Not necessarily,’’ Chiarelli answered when asked if clearing Ward’s salary would go to locking up Kessel. “I’m looking for another defenseman. With respect to Phil, he’s a good young player. We want him in our mix. I’ve gotten the endorsement of ownership that if any offer sheet comes, we will match. To get these players at this level, you have to draft them, and they’re hard to get. He’ll be hard to pry from us.’’

Eaves, 25, who left BC after his junior year to sign with Ottawa, appeared in 74 games for Carolina last season, scoring six goals with eight assists. Eaves has yet to find an NHL niche, teetering between skilled player and grinder.

Because he is under 26, Eaves will receive one-third of his remaining salary via buyout. The Bruins will take on a cap hit of $258,333 in 2009-10, 2011-12, and 2012-13. The Bruins will receive a $41,667 cap credit in 2010-11 because Eaves’s three-year contract is escalating ($1.1 million in 2007-08, $1.4 million in 2008-09, $1.7 million in 2009-10).

“It gives us a little bit of freedom,’’ said Chiarelli of Eaves’s cap credit in 2010-11, the year Marc Savard will become an unrestricted free agent and Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, and Tuukka Rask will reach RFA status. “It’s not much, but it’s a little bit. Certainly that was part of the reason we did it.’’

Yesterday, Chiarelli delivered the news to Ward while the defenseman was on the seventh hole of a North Carolina golf course. Ward will join former teammates such as Ray Whitney, Eric Staal, Rod Brind’Amour, and Cam Ward. He will also become teammates with Walker, the forward who dropped him with a right fist in Game 5 of the playoffs. Ward said the incident was water under the bridge, although he joked he would get Walker back in practice.

“This came as a complete surprise,’’ Ward said, noting that agent Larry Kelly didn’t anticipate the trade either. “I was preparing myself to be with the Boston Bruins next season. You look at the picture as a whole, and it was a team that won the Eastern Conference and finished the highest it did in a long time. In your own evaluation, you think you’re a key component of that success. I had no thought process or inkling that I was moving on.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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