RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -The Carolina Hurricanes signed goaltender Cam Ward - the most valuable player of the team's run to the Stanley Cup last year - to a three-year contract Thursday.
Ward will earn $2 million next season, $2.5 million in the 2008-09 season and $3.5 million in 2009-10.
The 23-year-old made $684,000 last year in the final year of the three-year entry-level contract he signed in 2004, and the new deal cements his status as the franchise's goalie of the future.
``I think it does make a statement, and I'm very thankful for the opportunity that they have given me,'' Ward said. ``I'm looking forward to the challenge in front of me to win more hockey games and try to be part of a team to get back to the Stanley Cup finals.''
Ward, a restricted free agent, said the quicker-than-expected negotiation didn't begin until after he helped Canada win the world hockey championships in mid-May. His agent met with Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford on Wednesday and the two sides wasted little time agreeing on a deal.
``It went a lot quicker than I anticipated it to go,'' Ward said.
As a rookie, Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason when leading the Hurricanes past the Edmonton Oilers in a seven-game Stanley Cup finals last June. This season - his first as the Hurricanes' No. 1 goaltender - Ward had 30 wins in 60 games while allowing 2.93 goals per game.
``We have one goal in mind, and that is to get back to the Stanley Cup finals,'' Ward said. ``It's nice to get this deal out of the way, and now I'm working hard off the ice to prepare for (training camp in) September.''
The Hurricanes picked Ward in the first round of the 2002 draft.
``Cam is one of the cornerstones of our team moving forward,'' Rutherford said. ``He has already built an impressive resume for himself at a young age, and we believe he is going to be one of the elite goaltenders in the National Hockey League for a long time.''

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