Ladd (probably) leaving may signal Jets 2.0 are heading back to the drawing board


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There’s nothing like the sound of a ticking clock to force some honest answers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/02/2016 (2363 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s nothing like the sound of a ticking clock to force some honest answers.

After a season of platitudes and bafflespeak and player and team all saying the right things without saying anything at all, everyone at long last came clean about the Andrew Ladd situation Tuesday.

And what emerged when the smoke cleared is: 1. the only captain Jets 2.0 has ever had is almost certainly going to be traded between now and the NHL trade deadline on Monday; and 2. the man who will almost certainly replace Ladd as Jets captain thinks that’s insane.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd (16), Dustin Byfuglien (33), Joel Armia (40) and Toby Enstrom (39) celebrate Ladd's goal against the Dallas Stars during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, February 23, 2016.

“It’s crazy to think we’ve gotten to this point,” Jets winger Blake Wheeler told a suffocating scrum of reporters surrounding his locker after the team’s morning skate.

“I never really imagined in a million years we’d be sitting here.”

Yet here is exactly where we are, watching the clock tick down on what now appears are the final days in a Jets uniform for a man who has been the public face of this franchise since before it even had a logo.

Whatever lingering hopes there may still have been for the possibility of an 11th-hour deal to keep Ladd in a Jets uniform for years to come were all but extinguished by the captain himself.

With the trade deadline looming and nothing really left to lose, Ladd gave his most complete and honest accounting of a season-long contract negotiation that it turns out ended around Christmas and has never resumed.

No, there have been no new talks this week. Yes, he’s disappointed it’s come to this. No, he hasn’t really spoken much directly to Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

“It’s a weird vibe,” said Ladd. “I mean I guess I can kind of see the writing on the wall.”

Yeah, I’ll bet. That happens when the writing is in 10-foot neon letters and spells, “Thanks for your service but we’re going in a different direction.”

It all created the incredibly awkward situation Tuesday night of Ladd taking to the ice against the Dallas Stars for likely the last time at the MTS Centre as the Jets captain, with an elephant in the building sucking up all the oxygen and representatives of three NHL teams watching from the press box, including Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice did what he could to honour his captain’s service, sending Ladd out in the starting lineup, allowing fans to give their captain an ovation when his name was announced over the public address.

And then the in-house camera found Ladd during the singing of the anthems, singling him out on the scoreboard.

But in the end, it was left to Ladd to author his own memorable farewell, bringing the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation late in the second period with a short-handed goal that tied the game 2-2.

It was Ladd’s fourth goal in three games and seventh goal in the last 10 games and you’ve got to say this for him — in perhaps one final service to this hockey team, he maximized his trading value with his play in the last two weeks.

Still, let’s not kid ourselves — this wasn’t the ending the team or captain envisioned. And not just because Winnipeg went on to lose the game 5-3.

A Jets team many were expecting to build on their first playoff appearance last season headed into Tuesday night’s game 28th in the NHL standings and looking up at everyone with the exception of the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs, who’ve been tanking for weeks, and the Edmonton Oilers, who are still somehow the worst team in hockey despite having the first-overall draft pick every year for what feels like the last decade.

So what now? The consensus seems to be Ladd is worth something resembling a late first rounder and maybe a prospect and a player. But make no mistake — whatever the Jets get in exchange for Ladd, they’ll also be effectively waving the white flag and throwing in the towel on the rest of this season.

Let’s face it, you don’t trade your captain and one of your best players if you still believe you’ve got a chance of making the playoffs.

That’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow for a Jets fan base that has a right to expect the team to be playing meaningful hockey in March and April of this franchise’s fifth season back in Winnipeg.

And it also raises questions about whether this is the beginning of the end of the veteran core of players the franchise brought from Atlanta and have built the team around ever since.

First, Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian were traded last year. And now it looks like Ladd this year. Where does that leave some of the other former Thrashers in Cheveldayoff’s plans?

Is Toby Enstrom next? Ondrej Pavelec? Mark Stuart? Bryan Little?

If Ladd is a movable piece, you have to wonder if just about everyone is expendable.

Five years in, this thing could be headed back to the drawing board.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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