Manitoba

Jets column: Ladd, Byfuglien and the end of the world

The stakes aren’t as high as the possible obliteration of humanity as we know it but the continuing drama of the Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien contract situations carry a similar importance for Jets followers.

The play from both players suggests the contract terms they are reportedly seeking may not be far-fetched

Every game morphs into a referendum on both players. Ladd — pictured here with Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler — once believed to be a no-brainer for the Jets to retain, twists in the wind, as recent reports suggest Byfuglien is the current object of Winnipeg's attention. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Let's say astronomers see a giant meteor with their giant telescopes and let's say this giant meteor is headed for Earth.

And let's say, just for kicks, that there wasn't anything we could do to stop it. With uncertainty on approach, one figures this giant meteor would dominate our day-to-day conversations until, well … you know, it didn't anymore.

Which brings us to the Winnipeg Jets off-season: February edition.

The stakes aren't as high as the possible obliteration of humanity as we know it but the continuing drama of the Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien contract situations carry a similar importance for Jets followers.

With the on-ice product hanging on for playoff dear life following a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night (Winnipeg is 23-26-3, nine points out of a wildcard spot), most of the attention has landed on the two soon-to-be-unrestricted free agents.

These are the good times.

Ladd sits out a practice and people wonder if there's a trade brewing. Byfuglien says he likes Winnipeg and folks figure a deal is being finalized. Ladd misses a morning skate, and social media starts to buzz in anticipation of … something.

When the national TV hockey panels chat about potential trades and league scuttlebutt, the discussion inevitably swings around to the Jets. What will they do?

Ladd is riding a three-game goal streak. Byfuglien is taking penalties, putting up points and hamming it up for the cameras during game action — typical Byfuglien stuff. Lately, the play from both players suggests the contract terms they are reported to be seeking may not be that far-fetched.

Isn't this an interesting turn of events?

With three weeks to go before the NHL trade deadline, understanding why there's so much focus on the two Jets veterans is easy. What isn't so easy to wrap your head around is what general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will do with the two players in the next three weeks.

No one, maybe not even the GM himself, can say with any conviction what's going to happen with Ladd and Byfuglien when Feb. 29 rolls around. Every scenario you can think of — be it a trade, a re-signing, a decision to hold onto both assets through the rest of the season — remains on the table, and this ambiguity is why the situation has taken on a life of its own over the last month.

Call it the fruits of speculation.

Every game morphs into a referendum on both players. Ladd, once believed to be a no-brainer for the Jets to retain, twists in the wind, as recent reports suggest Byfuglien is the current object of Winnipeg's attention.

The trusted captain was struggling to put up points at the same rate he did in the first four years in Winnipeg, while Byfuglien kept on doing what Byfuglien does. Why this has resulted in a shift in negotiation focus is anyone's guess but everything about this situation — right from the decision to start the season with both players on the roster and not under contract — makes a lot of sense.

Nothing is out of the realm of possibility, of course, but it's hard to see Ladd or Byfuglien re-signing with the club now, with unrestricted free agency dollar signs floating right in front of them. They've gone this far — why wouldn't they wait and see what the market brings when 29 other teams have an opportunity to make an offer?

So we wait. Maybe something will happen Sunday.

Or maybe one or both will sign later this week.

Until then, other teams will be fitted for a Ladd or a Byfuglien. And the random trade generator will spit out the names of players Winnipeg may consider in any transaction. And this will go on until every NHL team is caught in the speculation trap.

The smart money is on Ladd getting shipped out before Byfuglien, right? Or is it the other way around now? It's hard to keep track and frankly, there is not enough space here to get through all the different scenarios. Let's leave those to your imagination.

What everyone can pretty much agree on, though, is if the club can't get Ladd or Byfuglien under contract before the end of February, both need to be moved out for draft picks or prospects. There is no ambiguity about this.

The importance of basic asset management for a small-market NHL team cannot be overstated and while failure to do so wouldn't be the end of the world, there certainly would be significant fallout.

And a whole lot of discussion about what just happened.

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