If captain Andrew Ladd enters the season without a new contract, it will naturally raise questions that he would like to avoid.
“It would be nicer to get it done before the year … especially in a market like this, there are questions every day, so it’d be nice to move past it at some point,” Ladd said, per TSN. “I’ve been around long enough that I know sometimes these things take time. I think both parties are interested in getting something done. All the things add up.”
The 29-year-old forward has one season remaining on his five-year, $22 million contract, but his next deal is expected to be more lucrative. After all, he’s coming off of a campaign where he scored 24 goals and a career-high 62 points.
The Free Press estimated back in July that Ladd would ultimately get “north of $6 million” annually on a contract “worth in the range of $40 million.”
That would be in the same ballpark as the extensions for Brandon Dubinsky (six-year, $35.1 million) and Ryan Callahan (six-year, $34.8 million). All three of those players are fairly close in age and are noteworthy for being able to contribute offensively while maintaining a physical presence. Callahan is also a former captain.
Of course time is running out for Ladd and the Jets to agree to terms before the campaign begins and if they fail to do so, Ladd’s public eagerness to put this behind him will only add fuel to the speculation as to what the sticking point is. Which will, of course, lead to those daily questions.
As crucial as it was to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg, the 2015-16 season is even bigger for the Jets.
After years of frustration, management’s slow-and-steady approach showed serious returns, but the franchise is heading toward multiple forks in the road.
Let’s consider some of the big factors ahead.
Contract years for key players – Hockey fans can debate whether Dustin Byfuglien’s the biggest name on the Jets or not, but he’s the earth-shaking wild card. Andrew Ladd is the gritty, stable winger who might just be the polar opposite. They’ve been immensely important players in Winnipeg, but what does the future hold?
Aging core – It’s easy to look at 21-year-old Jacob Trouba and 22-year-old Mark Scheifele and picture a bright future, especially with a generally well-regarded farm system.
For all the future talk, it’s a make-or-break season for the current crop of key players. Byfuglien is 30, Ladd is 29, Blake Wheeler is 28 and Bryan Little is 27.
Those core players aren’t ancient, but management probably needs to see them win some playoff games (or even series) to justify keeping the band together.
Goalie question – To especially weary Winnipegers, Ondrej Pavelec’s contract probably feels endless, and it does still have two years remaining. Management is sticking with Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, which is a short-term gamble. Are they any closer to making a decision that reaches a little further?
The Jets have some big questions to answer next season, yet let’s not forget: Winnipeg hasn’t been home to an NHL team with this sort of potential for a long, long time.
Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff doesn’t only have to make a decision on what to do with Dustin Byfuglien, he also has to deal with the matter of his captain Andrew Ladd heading into the final year of his five-year, $22 million contract.
Ladd is coming off a season in which he scored 24 goals and a career-high 62 points while averaging 20:04 in ice time a night.
“Like everything, there’s lots of moving parts that come into play,” said Cheveldayoff of contract talks with Byfuglien and Ladd. “But we’ve had good conversations with the agents for both players.”
Ladd underwent sports hernia surgery in May and is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
“I’ve skated the last couple of weeks and I don’t have any ill effects,” he told NHL.com last week. “It’s been a different summer because I don’t usually take a whole lot of time off and I get back into it quickly. This was a slower start to the offseason, and I kind of (eased) my way into things, doing different stuff. But it’s feeling good, and I’m excited to be back on the ice.”
The 29-year-old, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, is likely in line for a raise on the $4.5 million he will make this season.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported last month that Ladd is seeking an extension “north of $6 million” annually, and “in the range of $40 million” overall.
For his part, Ladd appears committed to staying in Winnipeg and trying to win a Stanley Cup with the Jets.
“I think with the group we have, a lot of character guys in that room and no one that’s really satisfied, that’s what gets everybody excited, that we know what we have and the kind of people we have and we’re excited for the opportunity we have with that group,” Ladd said.