RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes have locked up goaltender Cam Ward for six more years.
The Hurricanes on Wednesday signed Ward to a $37.8 million contract that begins next season and runs through 2015-16.
The new deal will pay the fifth-year goalie an average of $6.3 million per year. He will earn $3.5 million this season under the terms of his current three-year deal signed in 2007, which expires after this season. The new deal prevents him from becoming a restricted free agent.
"The pressure's going to be there to play like an elite goaltender now that I'm being paid like one," Ward said. "That's not something that I've shied away [from] in the past, and that's why I ultimately chose to be a goaltender, to handle that pressure and play up to that."
The 25-year-old allowed an average of 2.44 goals last season while leading the Hurricanes to their first playoff berth since 2006, claiming consecutive road victories in Game 7s at New Jersey and Boston and helping them reach the Eastern Conference finals.
Already the club's winningest postseason goalie with 23 playoff victories, his career record of 120-77-18 is 10 victories shy of the franchise record.
The deal was announced two days before Carolina opens the regular season against the Philadelphia Flyers, and Ward became the second young star in two years to sign a long-term deal shortly before the season started. All-Star center Eric Staal, 24, signed a seven-year, $57 million contract last September that takes effect this year and also expires after the 2015-16 season.
"You don't know what's going to happen in sports, when you're going to have a really special year, a really good year or ... you have an off year," general manager Jim Rutherford said. "To have the two young star players that you know are going to be with the organization for a long time, regardless of how bad of a season a team could end up having, you can always turn around and rebuild around those two guys immediately. It doesn't take as long to fix the problems."
Ward has been one of the faces of the franchise ever since he burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2006, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs while leading the Hurricanes to their only Stanley Cup.
"Right from the first day of Cam's first training camp with us, we knew we had something special because at that time you could see how fundamentally strong he was, and it was just a matter of time of him developing and going through the process," Rutherford said.
"In his first year here, he got pushed in there pretty quick," he added. "It was his time. ... It was pretty obvious right from the first season that this was the franchise goalie for a long time."