Can fatherhood hurt Jets captain's on-ice performance?

The recent birth of Andrew Ladd's son raises questions about whether first-time fatherhood can affect the Winnipeg Jets captain's performance on the ice.
Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd at the opening day of training camp in Winnipeg on Jan. 13. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

When the Winnipeg Jets signed Andrew Ladd to a five-year, $22-million contract in July 2012, top of mind must have been his ability to lead and his playoff experience.

Ladd was named captain of the Atlanta Thrashers in the final year before the team moved to Winnipeg.

With two Stanley cup rings from his time in Carolina in 2006 and Chicago in 2010, it made sense to lock up the then 25-year-old kid from Maple Ridge, B.C.

The Jets organization also hoped for a player to put points on the board. Expectations for the left-winger to fill the score sheet this season are as high as any other top-six forward on the team.

But in 2013, the odds for Ladd to be an offensive threat are against him.

Last week, Ladd and his wife Brandy announced the birth of their first son, Locklan Joseph Ladd. The news came with big smiles from the Jets captain.

"It was an amazing moment," Ladd told CBC News following last Thursday's practice.

"Anyone who's had the chance to witness their child being born — it's unlike anything else. I can't even put it into words."

But Ladd's high off the ice could translate to lows on it.

Other examples

Players with similar offensive expectations to that of Ladd show the effect a firstborn child can have on a player's offensive prowess in the following year.

Exhibit A: Jarome Iginla. Iginla and his wife, Kara, gave birth to their daughter Jade, the first of three children, on Oct. 18, 2004.

With the lockout wiping out the entire 2004-2005 season, he returned the following year to score 67 points in 82 games for a 0.82 point-per-game average for the Calgary Flames.

The Flames reached the cup in 2004 and were expecting a big year for their captain; instead, they got his worst offensive production in five years.

Exhibit B: Joe Thornton. Not unlike Iginla, Thornton averaged less than a point-per-game (0.87) for the first time in five years after his wife, Tabea, gave birth to their daughter during the 2010-2011 season.

In the five years prior, Thornton averaged 1.26 PPG, a difference of more than 30 points in an 82 game season.

Then there's Shane Doan, a former Winnipeg Jets first-round pick, who, after welcoming his daughter Gracie halfway through the 1998-1999 season, scored a career low: 22 points in 79 games. His six goals in that year were a dozen less than any of his other 11 full seasons in the NHL.

Finally, Steve Yzerman offers the most interesting comparison of the bunch. It was during the lockout-shortened 1995 season that the Detroit Red Wings centre and his wife, Lisa, welcomed their new bundle of joy, Isabella Katherine, into the world.

In 47 games that year, Yzerman only managed to muster up 38 points, a total well below average for the centre who hadn't been held to less than a point per game in the previous eight seasons.

The next time the Red Wings' captain would score such a low point total was in consecutive seasons from 1997 to 1999, the years he would have his other two daughters, Maria Charlotte and Sophia Rose.

Could Ladd be the exception?

Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, director of sports psychology at the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba, was not at all surprised by the stats.

"It's a major life change, and major life changes take some big adjustments," she explained.

"Professional athletes are well-honed machines, and whenever there's a change in the routine it can create stress, and that can impact the body and have a huge impact on the way an athlete handles things."

Leslie-Toogood said the demands of a newborn can be difficult for a professional athlete like Ladd, who already manages a challenging schedule.

"The Jets are travelling a lot. They have back-to-back games," she said.

"You need to be well-rested, hydrated, eating right and anyone who has a child knows those things can fall by the wayside."

But that doesn't mean Ladd couldn't be the exception.

"An experience like this could also result in someone performing even better," Leslie-Toogood suggested.

"Having a child could bring an incredible amount of perspective to your life. This might create an athlete who is more resilient and with increased perspective is better able to handle the highs and lows of professional sports."