Andrew Ladd isn't just the captain of the Winnipeg Jets, he's also a friend to his teammates.
And it's those friends that understand the personal toll trade rumours can have on a player and his family.
With the NHL's Feb. 29 trade deadline looming and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien signing a five-year contract extension with the Jets last week, the spotlight on Ladd's future has become more intense.
The internet is full of fans' comments that this should be done or that should be done, almost treating the pending unrestricted free agent as though he's a game piece in Monopoly.
'I don't know how he deals with it, but we try to avoid the subject.' - Mathieu Perreault
"I understand that perspective," Jets centre Bryan Little said before the team headed out Friday for a four-game road trip. "They're fans, they watch the games.
"I think sometimes it's easy to overlook that we are friends, we are a pretty close-knit group. I mean, we're with each other every day for nine months of the year. You get pretty close to these guys."
'We don't really talk about it'
Little and Ladd have been friends for six years and spend time together with their families, but Ladd's contract situation isn't a big topic of conversation.
"We don't really talk about it that much, kind of let his agents and the team handle it," Little said. "We do realize it's a business. I've had a lot of good friends that have moved on.
"Right now, he's my teammate and he's still here so we kind of don't talk about it much."
Ladd's wife, Brandy, is pregnant with their third child. It's something Ladd mentioned on a TSN 1290 radio show Friday when asked if his contract status makes it hard for him to concentrate on the ice.
"I think it's kind of being in limbo and not knowing what's going on, that's the toughest part on you and knowing it affects obviously more than just me in terms of my wife and my kids and all that good stuff," Ladd said.
"My wife's pregnant so there's kind of lots of things that go into it. So, yeah, it weighs on you a little bit, but at the end of the day it's your job to be a professional and make sure that you get the job done on the ice."
Costing it out
With Byfuglien inking a new deal averaging $7.6 million per year, the question remains whether the Jets can afford to keep their 30-year-old leader or trade him so they don't risk him signing elsewhere in the summer as a free agent.
- Winnipeg Jets sign Dustin Byfuglien to 5-year contract
- Jets column: Ladd, Byfuglien and the end of the world
One media report claimed Ladd had a six-year offer worth about $6 million per season on the table at some point this season.
In the last year of a five-year, $22-million contract, Ladd hasn't wavered in his desire to remain with the club.
"We're kind of ready and waiting to re-engage with them whenever they're ready," Ladd told the show. "So, hopefully, that happens soon or we get some sort of message in terms of which way they want to go."
The Jets began their road trip with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored in the shootout.
Ladd's role on the ice has shifted this season. He's been moved off the top line with Little and Wheeler to a third line with centre Adam Lowry and most recently right-winger Joel Armia.
After a career-high 62 points in 81 games last season, the Maple Ridge, B.C., native has 13 goals and 17 assists in 55 games as Winnipeg (25-27-3) struggles to make it into the playoff picture.
Trading a captain isn't common, but last week Toronto shipped Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa. Even the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise traded captain Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010 and Ladd got the title.
"We just kind of let it be," forward Mathieu Perreault said of Ladd's possible trade. "Our job is to come to the rink and play hockey and try to win games for this organization.
"That's what Andrew's doing as well right now. Obviously, it's in the back of his head, I'm assuming. I don't know how he deals with it, but we try to avoid the subject. I'm not going to go up to him to see how he feels."