ST. LOUIS — His message hasn’t changed — it’s just business — but Andrew Ladd’s future with the Winnipeg Jets is murkier now than ever.
The Jets captain won’t say it publicly, but as much as he’s got to be thrilled for friend and longtime teammate Dustin Byfuglien on his spiffy new contract extension, he has to be pining for that same kind of clarity to his own future.
And all of that might be come clearer in the days ahead in advance of the NHL’s Feb. 29 trade deadline. In the meantime, he waits. And waits and waits and...
"I honestly don’t know, I haven’t heard much from their side in terms of what that does or how it impacts," said Ladd after Tuesday’s game-day skate at Scottrade Center. "I’m sure we will soon, but I honestly don’t know."
The common thinking now regarding Ladd is with Byfuglien now committed to a new five-year, US$38-million extension, the window to re-sign the captain is being slammed shut, especially knowing the young core of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Adam Lowry all become restricted free agents this summer and will earn raises.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, not surprisingly, offered no hints Monday after the Byfuglien announcement. Sources say the Jets and Ladd’s camp have kept communication open, but that hardly means a deal is close to getting done. In fact, if anything, the Byfuglien signing has only cranked up more Ladd speculation, including rumours the Los Angeles Kings — who were also thought to be in on any potential Byfuglien trade discussion — may now turn their attention to the Jets captain.
All of this, of course, has to occasionally pop onto Ladd’s radar screen even, try as he may to have the blinders on to the whole thing.
"I’ve said it before, no one enjoys having uncertainty and not knowing what’s going on, but there’s not a whole lot you can do about it," said Ladd. "There’s a lot of guys going through the same situation. Just look across at the other room and their captain (David Backes) is in the same position.
"Are there some days that it makes it harder to focus on what you need to focus on? Probably, but that’s part of being a professional and overcoming that mental battle and getting ready to play hockey every day."
And when it was suggested there mustn’t be an hour in the day when his hockey future doesn’t come into mind, Ladd just shrugged.
"It depends on what you’re doing, I guess," he said with a grin. "If you’ve got a lot of free time on your hands then, yeah, probably. But when I’m at home with the kids and my wife all that stuff... that’s the stuff that takes the priority."
Still, the narrative surrounding Ladd has changed dramatically over the last eight to nine months. He was the Jets’ leading scorer last season and, as far back as last year’s draft, his inking a new deal were said to be imminent. He entered 2015-16 coming off major off-season surgery but still on the Jets’ top line.
Now he’s on the third line with a different role, and his offensive numbers are down considerably.
"There’s been some obstacles, but that’s all part of being in this business, too, right?" said Ladd. "Different guys go through different things at different points in seasons and careers. It’s just something you have to deal with. You won’t get a complaint out of me, I guess."
Jets coach Paul Maurice raved about how Ladd has handled the whole thing, including his new role and the distractions his contract uncertainty have served up all season. He was asked prior to Tuesday’s game if he felt the need to speak to Ladd at all after the Byfuglien news.
"Those are mutually exclusive events, in my mind," he said. "I know there’s been speculation about the impact of the two, but there doesn’t necessarily have to be. As Kevin (GM Cheveldayoff) pointed out, there’s lots of things going on. I would say the answer to that more directly is, no. And the reason is, I’ve watched him handle himself all year, and he’s been spectacular, he really has. His mood around the players doesn’t change.
"Andrew is a real honest guy, and he’s genuinely happy for Dustin. He really, truly is. They’ve played together, they’ve won together. He’s a teammate and he’s a good friend and he is very happy for him.
"Quietly I’ve asked him to take on a real challenging role shift in his career," Maurice added. "He’s done a lot of things really well that don’t end up on the scoresheet."