Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We get the leader our team, city need

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Maybe things like community and honour don't matter to the A-Rods and LeBrons in this era of greed gone wrong, but for a man like Andrew Ladd they weigh just as much as the gold most pro athletes chase at the cost of principle.

The movie Wall Street's Gordon Gekko and his greed be damned. Less is more fits Ladd better.

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Ladd is the example of the hockey player managers spend their careers looking for. He's a nice mix of talent, skill and, as evidenced by his decision to commit long-term to the Winnipeg Jets and this oft-maligned community, loyalty.

No grumbling about poor shopping options or the cold or lack of night life from Captain Ladd. Rather, he has determined this is the place he wants to call home for the bulk of his career and where he wants to claim his stake. The Jets, in their infancy as an NHL franchise, could not have asked for any more from Ladd. His reaction to the Atlanta Thrashers relocating to Winnipeg and subsequent pursuit of a long-term contract has cemented the attitude current players will take towards the team and its new location. Winnipeg is not a bad word. It's home and a good thing. Ladd has made sure of that.

He left money on the table, of that there can be no doubt, but what he passed up in bucks he gained in good will with the people of Winnipeg.

You've heard the expression "how much do you really need?" Well, for Andrew Ladd, $22 million over five years was enough. Just as important for him was the opportunity to anchor down in one city and build a home and a connection with a community.

The connection is already strong. Ladd is the perfect captain for this little hockey market with its new NHL franchise and sold-out building. He has invested in the Jets as much as they've invested in him.

Winnipeggers had already taken to Ladd, and his decision Tuesday to avoid salary arbitration as well as push unrestricted free agency down the road for at least five years is an affirmation of that faith.

He didn't wait for the Jets to sign him to a deal or for this city's fans to come to his altar. He took the first step with an act of off-ice leadership that has already paid big dividends for the franchise.

His decision to fly to Winnipeg on his own dime just days after the franchise was granted was the act of a leader. Any backlash from players moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg was cut down in an instant. He set the tone.

Winnipeg was the franchise's new home and rather than harp about the negatives, he pushed the positives. In one 24-hour tour of our city, he set aside fears about players not wanting to play here. If the team's captain and best player was onside, others had no choice but to follow.

True North landed the franchise, but Ladd sowed the seeds of a reputation for the organization among players. Keeping or landing superstars will be hard for the Jets. As much as we love the 'Peg, others find reasons to knock it. But, and this was true in the '90s, there is the potential for hockey players to love our town as much as we do.

Developing such a culture will be key for the Jets if they are to have meaningful success down the line.

Ladd has taken the first step with his faith in our city and Jets management. Had he balked and chosen to move towards unrestricted free agency, the franchise could have been put in a terrible position from the get-go. The opposite, of course, is true. Right now, Winnipeg is a desirable place to play for players interested in earning their living in a hockey environment.

Thanks to our Ladd.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2011 D1

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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
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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