Andrew Ladd

Andrew Ladd will be first test for Winnipeg signing their own players

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The Winnipeg Thrashjets will have to make some decisions on unrestricted free agents Freddy Meyer, Eric Boulton, and Radek Dvorak; they’ll also have to lock up Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, Rob Schremp, Anthony Stewart, Ben Maxwell, and Brett Festerling who are all restricted free agents this offseason. But the most important situation to watch is restricted free agent Andrew Ladd.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion Ladd, brought some much needed leadership to the locker room last season, after Don Waddell acquired him with Dustin Byfuglien during the Blackhawk’s fire sale last June. In addition to the leadership and earning the captaincy, he led the team with 29 goals, 9 power play goals and 59 points. By just about every measure, he was the most important player on the entire team. He had been in negotiations for a new contract, but were unable to nail down the final details. Bob McKenzie agrees re-signing Ladd could prove to be a bellwether moment in the franchise’s development.

“His deal with Atlanta came very close to getting done, but they couldn’t agree on some final terms,” McKenzie said. “Now that becomes the responsibility of Winnipeg’s front office. Ladd is an interesting case. He’s one year away from unrestricted free agency, and is currently a restricted free agent. He’s got a great arbitration case if he decides to go that route, and could do very well there.

“He can essentially decide if he wants to make a long-term commitment to the team now that it is in Winnipeg, and if he does that, it will be a wonderful way to pave the future. But if he decides he would rather play somewhere else, then that sets it off in the other direction.”

When the Jets were in Winnipeg the first time around, one of the major problems they had was that it was so difficult to attract top-tier free agents to Manitoba—and a problem Edmonton’s front office will tell you includes Alberta. Fans were reminded of the 15-year-old problem when Ilya Bryzgalov made his comments about Winnipeg; it looked like the Coyotes could possibly be moving back to the Peg. The strengthened Canadian dollar will help the franchise compete fiscally—but they’ll still need to find players who are willing to play in Winnipeg for the duration contract. No doubt there would be a culture shock for anyone coming from a market like Philadelphia, New York, or even Vancouver.

For his part, Ladd is saying all of the right things about the market, the fans, and the ongoing negotiations. Here’s what he told The Canadian Press in anticipation of the move to Winnipeg:

“It’s probably going to be bigger than most guys think. I think not having (NHL) hockey there for 15 years, it’s kind of built up and built up to the point where I’m sure (fans) are ready to blow the doors off the hinges and get this thing going.”

(snip)

“I think everyone wants to be able to play in Canada where they just have that passion for the game. There’s a little extra pressure and attention, but for me I like that part of it. You can definitely thrive on it and use it to your advantage.”

(snip)

(Ladd) doesn’t expect the move to have a major impact on contract negotiations.

In fact, he hopes agent J.P. Barry will be able to get back to the bargaining table, now that the relocation has been made official.

“It’s kind of been in limbo because we were negotiating towards the end of the year for a couple months and then with the ownership situation it’s kind of been stalled. As players, you’re not sure with new ownership coming in what they’re going to want to do and where you fit in or that sort of thing.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see what happens and get some answers on what’s going on.”

The first step for the NHL to be successful in Winnipeg is for the fans to put their money where their mouth is. The publicly stated goal of 13,000 season tickets (with 3-5 year commitments) will insure the team will be stable during the infancy of its rebirth. But once those initial commitments expire, it will be imperative for True North to ice a contender.

Market after market has proven that over time, attendance is invariably tied to the quality of the team on the ice. The Minnesota Wild sold games out for nearly a decade before the fans realized the quality of the product wasn’t top quality. Fans in Denver supported the Avalanche when they arrived from Quebec City and won a few Stanley Cups. But when the novelty wore off and the teams started to struggle in recent years, so have the numbers at the box office.

Locking up a player like Andrew Ladd, would be the first step towards putting a good team on the ice for years to come. For fans in Winnipeg, hopefully he’ll be the first of many players who choose to bring their talents to Manitoba.

Van Riemsdyk trying to block out trade talk

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 15:  James van Riemsdyk #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates a goal against the Boston Bruins during an NHL game on October 15, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Remember those Dougie-Hamilton-to-Toronto trade rumors Brian Burke shot down last week? Well, in case you don’t, a refresher:

The Leafs, reportedly in the market for a defenseman, were reportedly willing to part with a winger — a position Calgary is looking to upgrade — which led many to speculate on a Hamilton-for-William Nylander swap.

Or, a Hamiton-for-James van Riemsdyk deal.

This week, JVR responded to the banter.

“You don’t really worry about it too much,” he said, per the Toronto Sun. “(Blocking it out) comes from experience.

“It tends to eat at you a little bit more (when you’re younger), but now you realize it is completely out of your control and it does not really faze you as much.”

Van Riemsdyk, who leads the Leafs with 11 goals and 20 points through 24 games this year, is fairly tantalizing as far as potential additions go. He’s on a good contract (two years left at $4.25 million per) and has been a pretty consistent scorer for the Leafs, which included a career-high 30 goals in ’13-14.

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he’s got solid size and has long been viewed as one of the better power forwards going.

This, of course, is the exact reason why Toronto would want to keep van Riemsdyk. It’s important to remember that he only turned 27 in May, and could easily be a part of the core group of Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri et al.

Despite winning record, Rangers ‘very aware’ they must be better

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Head coach Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers leaves the ice following a 5-0 defeat against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 21, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers may be winning, but their head coach, Alain Vigneault, knows they need to be better.

Hmmm…this feels familiar for some reason.

Oh right, that’s because it was the same story last season, when the Rangers got off to a great start before tailing off then fizzling out in the playoffs.

The Rangers head into tonight’s game in Brooklyn with a record of 17-8-1. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad — in five of their last six games, they’ve been held to 25 shots or fewer. On the season, their score-adjusted Corsi has fallen to 26th in the league.

“We’re very aware and very conscious of the areas we need to be better at,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “We’re playing a team that’s playing real solid hockey.”

Indeed, the Islanders are 3-0-1 in their last four, including wins over Pittsburgh and Washington.

To be fair to the Rangers, they’ve been without Mika Zibanejad for the past seven games, and he was a big part of their early success. Tonight, they’ll also be without Michael Grabner, who’s gone back to Austria for his grandmother’s funeral.

     Read more: The new-look Rangers are dangerous on every line

But the Rangers aren’t looking to make excuses. They’re looking instead to get back on track.

“It’s definitely a five-man thing for us and communication and just getting on the same page again,” forward Jimmy Vesey said, per the Daily News. “It’s definitely something we need to get back to, and I think that’s kind of like the recipe for being a good team down the line and in the playoffs.”

After waiving Enroth, Toronto signs Ramo to AHL deal

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Kari Ramo took another step in his return to the NHL on Tuesday, signing a PTO with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Marlies.

The deal, first reported by TSN, comes one day after Toronto placed backup netminder Jhonas Enroth on waivers.

“Obviously, wasn’t going good enough,” head coach Mike Babcock said of the decision to waive Enroth, per TSN. “We’re just in a situation where we’re making a change.”

(Enroth cleared today, FYI.)

As for Ramo, he’s an interesting figure. The 30-year-old suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Calgary this past February and, at the time of the injury, led all Flames netminders in starts, with 33.

Prior to that, he’d rebounded from a poor start to the year — which included Calgary waiving him — and, in January, then-head coach Bob Hartley called Ramo “probably one of the hottest goalies in the league.”

So it’s easy to see why Toronto would be interested.

Of course, Ramo is coming off a major knee injury and has basically been shelved for 10 months. He’s been practicing with the Leafs, but this ATO with the Marlies will give him a chance to test the knee in a game situation, and knock off some of the rust that’s surely accumulated.

Ramo is believed to be close to receiving medical clearance for a return to action.

Justin Schultz is having a pretty good season

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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It was Justin Schultz‘s kind of game last night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins beat the Senators, 8-5, in a fun, back-and-forth affair.

Schultz was in on a pair of Pittsburgh goals, scoring one and assisting on another. The 26-year-old defenseman now has three goals and eight assists in 26 games. And on a good team that can put him in a position to succeed, he’s a plus-13.

Schultz, of course, joined the Penguins last season in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. He won a Stanley Cup in June, then re-signed for one year and $1.4 million in July.

     Read more: Justin Schultz quietly making big impact on Penguins power play

“He deserves a lot of credit for the effort, the commitment level he’s shown,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Friday, per the Post-Gazette.

Sullivan too deserves credit, for playing Schultz to his strengths and bringing out the best in an imperfect player. An offensive defenseman, Schultz is not being asked to do much of the heavy lifting defensively. He starts a lot of shifts in the attacking zone, and he doesn’t play very often against the opposition’s best.

Last night, Schultz displayed his offensive instincts and abilities, jumping up in the rush to take a pass from Evgeni Malkin, then burying it for the go-ahead goal.

Schultz ended up logging 19:54 of ice time, including 16:20 at even strength, the most among Penguins d-men.