Captain Ladd leading the way

By: Adam Wazny | Friday, February 22

Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd scores in the third period of Thursday's game in Carolina. Winnipeg won 4-3. (Gerry Broome/Associated Press)

There are still people who believe Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd should give up the letter on the front of his jersey.
There are those who feel he should give up his Manitoba address, too.

Ladd is proving this thinking an antiquated notion, of course, thanks to some impressive play that has led the Jets through the first 16 games this season.
On Thursday, with teammate Zach Redmond in the hospital following a serious cut to the leg that required three hours in an operating room --- plus the emotional fallout within the team from that freak injury --- the captain scored a goal and added two assists as the Jets beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3.
The win gives Winnipeg its second consecutive victory on their current five-game road trip.

The Jets (7-8-1) have won three straight in the white, away jerseys and are -- wait, you better sit down for this -- 4-3-1 on the road. Looking ahead, Winnipeg visits Philadelphia Saturday (noon) before dates with the New Jersey Devils (Sunday, 4 p.m.) and the New York Rangers (Tuesday, 6 p.m.).

While Thursday was a frustrating display of inconsistency from both clubs, Ladd continued to be a Winnipeg constant. In the shadow of a jarring morning skate situation, he marked his 500th NHL game in the town he was drafted in (Carolina took Ladd with the 4th overall pick in the 2004 entry draft) with three points; his efforts merely another post in what's turning into a terrific season for the 27 year old.

Ladd's key numbers this campaign: a team-leading nine goals and team-leading 16 points. If this were an 82-game season, he'd be on pace for 46 goals. His line (with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler) has been the only winning forward bet this year, accounting for 18 of the club's 41 goals (44 per cent).

But there's more. What's not showing up on the score sheet -- at least not in any tangible statistic category -- is a slight tweak to the leadership role a captain traditionally provides. Those questions of his locker room clout last season, curiosities of whether Ladd is the right leader for this young, impressionable team, are no longer coming up thanks to his more assertive style, specifically with the public scrutineers.

Last week, he called out his mates after another tepid home performance, telling reporters in no uncertain terms that every player on the Jets needed to look at himself in the mirror and realize they had more to give. Try harder. The Jets played much better in the next two games (two close losses to cup contenders from Pittsburgh and Boston), and are now starting to enjoy success.

Ladd's words may not have sparked an immediate change but his candor was a breath of fresh air in a room filled with stale promises.

Oh, there's more.

Remember the costly, errant pass Ladd made late in the second period in Buffalo Tuesday? What stood out on that play wasn't the poor decision that led to a Sabres goal but how the captain immediately took responsibility for the mistake in front of the cameras afterwards. Ladd took the bullets. No excuses. He was frank and accountable. His bad, he said. He will be better.

Try three-points-the-next-game better.

Production aside, this honesty could be an area where he impacts the club the most. Too often the Jets toss out clich├ęd explanations during the down times (young team, too much pressure at home, Atlanta mismanagement), and too often it's met with an automatic understanding from a grateful fanbase. Could mixing a little more accountability -- and a little less sugar -- into everyone's water bottles be what this club needs to take the next step?

Hey, it's something to consider. Perhaps Ladd already has.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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