Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Good thing we didn't get the 'Yotes, come to think of it

Thrashers a much better fit than grumbling, pouting Phoenix players

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Shane DOAN made it very clear last season he wanted no part of Winnipeg. As it turns out, Winnipeg should be glad they didn't get stuck with him and his pouty teammates.

This city and its hockey fans will be much better off with Andrew Ladd as the leader of its NHL franchise.

Younger and more open to the inevitable changes life presents, Ladd is a much better fit for this burgeoning franchise.

A trip to Winnipeg on his own dime Thursday as well as his openness to moving here and making a home in our community speaks volumes about Ladd. And about some folks who were unwilling to give us a chance.

So be it. Let them eat cake. Or play hockey in front of an empty building for a sinking franchise.

Keep the grumblers, Ladd and his teammates will do fine. No, they'll do better.

"The guys are a little worried about the unknown but they're excited to move to a place that is so excited to have us," said Ladd. "We're a young team that plays exciting hockey and in terms of talent we're under-rated.

Already a champion twice in his career, Ladd can be called a winner. At just 26 and hitting the most productive years of his career, the captain of the Atlanta Thrashers/soon to be Winnipeg NHLers, has far more upside at this stage than the 34-year-old Doan. The Stanley Cup seems to follow Ladd around. Not such a bad thing in a hockey player.

Ladd finished last season with 29 goals and 30 assists, while Doan collected 20 goals and 40 assists. One is on the way up while the other is close to beginning his descent.

From this viewpoint the Coyotes are an aging roster that hit its peak getting bounced in four straight by the Red Wings this spring. They'll need to bottom out before they can rebuild.

The Thrashers, on the other hand, are younger and on the rise. They have yet to hit their ceiling and with the right moves by Winnipeg management might prove to more than a first-round flop.

Having the City of Glendale spend another $25 million on a hockey team that no one wants to own may well turn out to be a most fortuitous moment in Winnipeg's newest NHL chapter.

The Coyotes would have been a consolation prize and not much of one at that.

While Doan, along with ever-cerebral teammates Eric Belanger and Ilya Bryzgalov, went public with their distaste for the notion of moving to the 'Peg, Ladd bought himself a plane ticket to our town and asked for a sitdown with management.

Then he met with the media and told them how he was excited to play in a hockey market and how he was nicely surprised to find out about all the great restaurants and fine neighbourhoods Winnipeg has to offer.

"We have a young group that's eager to be in a hockey market and looking forward to being part of the excitement," said Ladd, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1 if not re-signed in the interim by Winnipeg management. "The main thing for a hockey player is to be in a hockey environment."

Ladd's trip to Winnipeg this week was an act of team leadership. He wanted to be first with his boots on the ground and to be able to report back to teammates what they should expect.

No talk about the personal sacrifices he and his family will be making by changing addresses. This isn't about the individual at all from Ladd's perspective.

It's about team and winning. Something he said was not possible in Atlanta but he believes is possible in Winnipeg.

"You have to have ownership that's committed. We didn't have that in Atlanta. I wanted to come in here and hear what these guys had to say about the culture they want to develop here. I liked what I heard from Mark (Chipman) and (Kevin Cheveldayoff) Chevy," said Ladd. "I think we have the foundation to build a winner and that's what these people want."

Shane Doan by all accounts is a wonderful human being. We don't doubt that. But he didn't want to come to Winnipeg. He said so.

In the end, we all got what we wanted.

Ladd and the Thrashers move North while Doan and the Yotes stay put.

Talk about your happy endings.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2011 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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