Andrew Ladd, captain of the newly minted Winnipeg Jets, signed a five-year extension with the franchise on Tuesday. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
The only development that could have slowed the juggernaut of excitement in Winnipeg since the Jets returned would have been if Andrew Ladd decided to play hardball in his contract negotiations.
Ladd has a tremendous amount of respect around the league. He was named captain of the relocated franchise last season. He has two Stanley Cup rings in only six NHL seasons and a 2005 world junior championship with Canada.
If he preferred to take the Jets to salary arbitration or push for a one-year deal to take him into unrestricted free agency next summer, Ladd would have sent a message to other players that it's not cool to play in Winnipeg. Instead, he put his stamp of approval - player wise - on the franchise's move from Atlanta to Winnipeg by signing a five-year, $22-million commitment on Tuesday.
"It never really crossed my mind to go that [unrestricted free-agency] route," Ladd said. "I wanted to get a long-term deal done pretty the much all the way long."
The main reason the 25-year-old Ladd wanted to sign a long-term deal was that he has bounced around between the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Atlanta Thrashers and now Winnipeg in a four-year period. So putting down some roots was important to Ladd.
"That was a big part of wanting to do a long-term deal, and that fact that they wanted me around for that long," he said. "It's nice to be in the same spot for a long time. It seemed like every time I got comfortable in the city and got to know the locals I would get shipped out. To be able to settle down in the community, meet people and become ingrained in the community is important to me."
A week after the relocation of the Thrashers north to Winnipeg became official, Ladd of Maple Ridge, B.C. made a trip to his new hockey home to meet club co-owner Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Craig Heisinger. Ladd toured the city and listened to his new boss's game plan.
He obviously liked what he heard and informed Jets management that he would like to get a deal done as swiftly as possible. Ladd and his fiancée will be married in Las Vegas in two weeks. There is a honeymoon to enjoy and then some house-hunting back in Winnipeg to go through before training camp. It also didn't hurt that Ladd's agent Mark Mackay is from Winnipeg.
"I knew all along that this would be an exciting place to play," Ladd said. "I played an exhibition game there [with the Canadian junior team in December 2004] and I saw how passionate the fans were about hockey then."
Ladd admitted that he has been caught up in all the excitement in Winnipeg and has been trying to envision what it will be like at the Jets home opener against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 9.
"To say I haven't been thinking about our first game next year and what the atmosphere in that rink is going to be like, I'd be lying," he said. "It's been on my mind a lot and something that's driving the excitement in my life."
More exciting than his impending wedding?
"You're right," he said. "I should probably say that. I guess I got caught up in it ... It's all gone by pretty fast."
Ladd enjoyed his most productive season with 29 goals and 59 points in 2009-10. He was asked what needs to happen in order for the Jets to make the playoffs in their first season back in Winnipeg. His answer was that the club's younger players need to continue to develop and it would be nice if a couple veterans who could provide some offence up front.
But what kind of reputation does Winnipeg have with the free agents looking for a new home?
"It's maybe a bit like Buffalo, in terms of getting a bad rap," Ladd said. "But the players who get the opportunity to play there love it and want to make it their home."
Getting Ladd signed on the dotted line in Winnipeg will only be a big help in this area.
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