I have to do it. I have to spoil all the Andrew Ladd-related fun for Chicago Blackhawks fans and actually delve into what this deal means now and could mean for the future. I won’t apologize.
While anyone who has been reading my posts over the last couple weeks knows I’ve been rallying hard for the Blackhawks to acquire a defenseman, I’m not at all upset that Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman went out and got Ladd, a left wing, on Thursday night. On the contrary, I was pretty excited to hear Ladd was returning to the scene of the crime … that crime being the 2010 Stanley Cup. But of course, I was excited when Kris Versteeg came back a couple years ago. I’m not comparing Ladd to Versteeg, but the shine of a trade — especially when it involves a guy who used to play for your favorite team — can wear off once you dig deeper.
Let’s take a look at some of the positives of this deal. The Blackhawks certainly filled a point of need at top-line left wing. While Andrew Shaw tries hard, he just wasn’t getting the job done on a regular basis alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. And let’s be honest, those latter two deserve to have someone who can actually help them score — and score a lot — night in and night out. Shaw didn’t and won’t provide that.
Ladd can. While he’s not an insanely prolific point producer, his 202 goals and 252 assists across 750 games in 10-plus seasons is a better points-per-game average (.61) than Shaw’s .43. Additionally, Ladd is a much bigger body than Shaw and creates space and his own shot, something Shaw struggles to do with a smaller frame. Ladd has obviously played with and practiced alongside Toews and Hossa before as well, so the chemistry should be quick on the new top line. In addition to that, this moves Shaw down to the third or fourth line, on which he can focus on getting to the dirty areas and giving the Blackhawks some much-needed bottom-six offense.
Ladd is also a guy who knows success, as he’s been part of two Stanley Cup champions in four playoff runs. His playoff stats of eight goals and eight assists in 57 games aren’t going to blow you away, but he’s been to the promised land. That’s a huge detail that matters a lot more down the stretch than you’d think (ask the Blues year in and year out). Plus, you figure those stats would take a nice boost lining up with Toews and Hossa.
So, we’ve gotten through the happy parts of this. Now, you may have noticed I previously said I was excited Ladd was back in Chicago. I didn’t necessarily say I was excited about the deal that got him here. So let’s talk about that deal.
The official ledger reads: Chicago Blackhawks acquire LW Andrew Ladd, D Jay Harrison and LW Matt Fraser from Winnipeg Jets for RW Marko Dano, 2016 first-round pick and conditional 2018 draft pick. There are a lot more pieces in there than Ladd.
On the “what Chicago got” side, Harrison is a guy who can be plugged into the Blackhawks’ third defensive pairing if absolutely necessary. The fact he was straight away sent to Rockford should tell you that isn’t something the team hopes to have happen. But Harrison does have NHL experience. The 33 year old has played in 372 NHL games, his most noteworthy run coming with Carolina between 2009 and 2015. Fraser is quickly turning into a journeyman forward, as this is his fourth NHL team at age 25. He projects to stay in the AHL for the foreseeable future.
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Now, on the “what Chicago gave up” side, things get dicey. The conditional pick is a third-rounder if the Blackhawks win this season’s Stanley Cup. Additionally, the Jets agreed to retain 36 percent of Ladd’s $4.5 million salary ($4.4 million cap hit), making him just a $2,816,000 cap hit against the consistently salary-cap-strapped Blackhawks. This is a good thing, obviously, and we’ll talk more about why in a moment.
But there’s that whole issue of the first-round pick, and it really puts this trade in an unfortunate light. Bowman knew he had two options with this season’s Blackhawks outfit: Stay pat and see what happens, or go for it. And he’s choosing the latter, as the Blackhawks now have no draft selections before the third round later this year. And what that ultimately means is this: If the Blackhawks don’t win the Cup this year (i.e. the goal of “going for it”), this trade is a bust. Period.
Here’s why. Ladd could score all of the Blackhawks’ goals between now and whenever their season ends, but if they don’t take the chalice, it won’t matter. Ladd is a straight-up rental at this point, considering he was in the last year of his contract with Winnipeg and is due a raise from the $4.5 million he made this year. The Blackhawks, especially with the salary cap expected to rise little from this season’s $71.4 million, just can’t afford that. The odds of the Blackhawks re-signing Ladd after this season are slim to none, and Bowman knows that. He knew it with Antoine Vermette last season when he gave up a second-round pick, but the Blackhawks won the 2015 Cup, so no one said a bad word about the deal in hindsight. We’ve reached the same point with this deal, but it’s magnified by involving a first-round pick.
On top of that, the Blackhawks hurriedly gave up on a promising prospect in Dano. While I agree with some of the things Blackhawk Up’s Sean Fitzgerald said in his two posts regarding this trade (you should read both, regardless of my opinion), I just can’t get behind the idea Dano wasn’t a good fit in Chicago. Sure, Joel Quenneville didn’t warm up to him right out of the gate, but you could say the same of Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen. Things worked out pretty well in both of those cases. We won’t know how well or not well they could have worked out with Dano.
Of course, that’s the price you pay if you want to win now, and Bowman understands that. Thankfully, he also understands something else: If you indicate you want to win now, don’t half-ass it. That’s why the Blackhawks are still rumored in on Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis. He knows this team needs another piece, and he’s going to do everything in his power to get it.
Does it necessarily have to be Hamhuis? No, but the Blackhawks need a proven NHL defenseman for the stretch run. I guess Harrison is the fall-back plan if Bowman can’t agree to another trade, which … is something, anyway. But Bowman was smart to get the deal with Ladd done early for a few reasons: 1) It gets Ladd off the market and leaves no doubt as to who has him; 2) It lets Bowman know exactly what he has to work with regarding acquiring a defenseman before or at the deadline; 3) It keeps all the Blackhawks supporters thinking positively about the Ladd deal if Bowman ultimately brings in a defenseman who makes us turn our heads and squint at the TV/computer/phone upon reading the name.
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And that’s really what it’s going to come down to. Adding Hamhuis or Kris Russell or John-Michael Liles is not going to make any Blackhawks fan jump for joy. But it’s necessary, and Bowman knows it. That’s why the timing of the Ladd deal was probably the smartest part of this entire story. Bowman knows he has nearly $1.4 million in cap space to work with (per General Fanager), and with Jiri Sekac placed on waivers this morning, another move is likely coming.
Or the Blackhawks are sticking with Ladd and calling it a day. It’d certainly be interesting to see how that’d play out.