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Chicago Blackhawks: Why Andrew Ladd Won’t Return

By Colin Likas
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Earlier this week, the idea that Kris Versteeg could return to the Chicago Blackhawks for a third tenure with the team began circulating. It generated … interesting reactions, to say the least, as most fans seemed to feel anywhere from eye-rollingly irritated to physically ill about the possibility.

So I ask you (rhetorically), Chicago Blackhawks fans: How would you feel about former Blackhawk Andrew Ladd returning to the organization? Well, it isn’t impossible.

Let me explain. Ladd, one of the salary cap casualties following the 2010 Stanley Cup win, went on to play for the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, where he remains to this day. He’s now the team’s captain at a cap hit of $4.4 million, and he’s in the last year of his current contract and an unrestricted free agent afterward. Also, the Jets are having a dismal season, sitting in the Central Division’s basement with just 47 points, 25 behind the division-leading Blackhawks.

So, it’s not surprising the idea of Ladd moving by the trade deadline could be a real thing. It’s also not surprising considering, before the season even started, there were discussions about whether the Jets would rather re-sign Ladd or another former Blackhawk, Dustin Byfuglien, once the 2015-16 season ended.

Both players are in a contract year, and even with the Jets being down in the standings, both Ladd and Byfuglien will command more than the $4.5 million (salary, not cap hit) and $6 million they currently make per season, respectively. And while that might not seem like an issue for a Jets team with nearly $11 million in cap space, according to HockeyBuzz.com, Winnipeg has eight other players on its current roster who are restricted or unrestricted free agents after the season ends.

On top of that, with this team seemingly in a season-ending tailspin, you’d be hard pressed to say Winnipeg General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will be okay standing pat on his team, outside of re-signing players he already has, once the Cup Final is over. Things are going to get dicey for the Jets from a salary cap position, is what I’m saying.

And that’s where the Blackhawks come in. They obviously have familiarity with Ladd, who spent parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks between 2008 and 2010. He’s also a left wing, and the Blackhawks are still searching for their answer at that position on their top line. To go along with that, the Jets might like to unload Ladd before the trade deadline to ensure they get something in return for him instead of just losing him in contract negotiations during the summer.

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Now I’m here to burst your bubble. First off, the Blackhawks are in their own salary cap hell, and their problems are current, not upcoming like Winnipeg’s. HockeyBuzz.com has the Blackhawks at $4.1 million and change in cap space, which alone couldn’t absorb all of Ladd’s cap hit if the Blackhawks took on his entire salary. On top of that, captains don’t come cheap. The Jets are going to need to justify to their fan base — which, like any fan base, has some constituents who don’t understand or care about the salary cap — trading their captain to a divisional rival. They’ll ask for either a major prospect and a boatload of draft picks or multiple prospects and maybe even an NHL-ready player. With Ladd on an unrestricted deal, that’s a crazy price to pay for what could easily be a rental player, even if the Blackhawks would greatly benefit from a first-line left wing upgrade.

There’s also the issue that the Blackhawks even more so need another defenseman before the deadline comes to pass. While Viktor Svedberg looked solid in his first game back with the club Tuesday, he is far from the answer to the team’s defensive depth issues. Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook are your obvious top three, and while Erik Gustafsson has made strides, he’s also very young, and players respond to the playoff atmosphere differently. And things fall off the table after that with an equally young Svedberg, an underwhelming Trevor van Riemsdyk and the nursing home tandem of Michal Rozsival and Rob Scuderi.

The Blackhawks can make do with the forward options they have for top-line left wing easier than they can make do with having to play Keith, Hjalmarsson and Seabrook 30-plus minutes a game in the postseason. Stan Bowman’s main issue is still on defense, and he’s likely aware of that. So any look at Ladd would probably wait until the offseason.

So maybe the Blackhawks can swoop in and grab him then, you say. I think this is just as unlikely as the Blackhawks acquiring him at the trade deadline. Again, Ladd is going to command a good-sized contract, even if he’s not going to be the team captain in Chicago. Considering Ladd has just 28 points in 50 games this season, they could potentially get him to take a discount. But it’s still not going to be enough of a discount considering what else the Blackhawks have to deal with this summer.

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Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Phillip Danault, Richard Panik, Jiri Sekac, Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter, Michal Rozsival, Viktor Svedberg. Those are all of the guys on the current active roster who are due for a new deal next season. And, like with Winnipeg GM Cheveldayoff, that doesn’t count Bowman looking to upgrade in other ways during the offseason. Ladd’s potential cap hit would just be too much for the Blackhawks to bear in any circumstance, right now or six months from now.

It would be fantastic to have a player like Ladd on the top-line left wing in Chicago. He’s familiar with the style Joel Quenneville likes to employ, he’s a sizable guy at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and he’s gone as high as 62 points in his NHL career, which probably still has some time to go, considering he’s a shade over 30 years old. But I just don’t see that in the cards right now due to a number of restrictions and restraints.

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