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.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick