Andrew Ladd has been gone a long time. But he’s not been forgotten by a former coach and teammate who marvelled at his return to Canada Life Centre Monday night.
"Him being on the ice is a testament to his character, his hard work, his determination," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said of Ladd, the former Jets captain who was traded to Chicago in February 2016.
"I think it’s wonderful. There’s good stories in hockey, right, and good men in hockey," added Jets bench boss Paul Maurice.
Ladd is not the cornerstone player he once was, such as when the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 and he immediately became the face, and the voice, of the NHL’s newest franchise. He played parts of five seasons with the Jets, with 246 points (110 goals and 136 assists) in 348 regular-season games.
But the fact the two-time Stanley Cup champion is still playing at all is something to be celebrated. Ladd has sustained a number of significant injuries, including a torn ACL in 2019 that looked to be a career-ender. He was in his third-year with the New York Islanders as part of a seven-year, US$38.5 million free-agent contract he signed in the summer of 2016 after that brief playoff run with the Blackhawks.
Arizona agreed to take on the remaining two years of his deal, which pays US$5.5 million annually, as part of a salary dump by the Islanders this past off-season. The Coyotes are in full re-build mode, they had plenty of cap space and were given three draft picks as compensation for taking the money off New York’s hands.
Ladd was clearly willing to do whatever it takes to get back to playing hockey at the highest, including 35 games in the American Hockey League over the past two years
"I think most people would have shut it down. He had every right, every reason to and, I mean, he just persevered," said Wheeler. "It’s a really cool thing to see and really happy for, obviously, a good friend and a great teammate."
Monday was Ladd’s fifth game back in Winnipeg since the original trade, and his first since Dec. 29, 2017. He skated in a bottom-six role, playing 9:22 over 13 shifts in Arizona’s 1-0 victory. Although Maurice didn’t like the end result, he was happy to see his former captain still doing what he loves
"Those kinds of injuries...and truthfully a point in his career where he was still gonna get paid. You gotta love playing hockey. He loves the game," said Maurice.
"And they’ve got a bunch of tough nights in Arizona and he’s real happy to be back on the ice. I don’t think it was easy for him to get back on the ice. He had to stay in the fight and stick around. He went through a really difficult time in the Island. So I’m happy that he’s back and playing and that his body’s allowing him to."
Ladd has three goals and one assists through 15 games this year, and is now just 35 away from hitting 1,000. That’s a milestone that seemed unreachable just a few years ago. Wheeler, who will skate in his 1000th this Sunday against Toronto, was planning to have a quick catch-up after finishing his post-game media session.
"I learned a ton from Laddy it and learned a lot about what leadership means," he said. "His character is on full display every time he puts a uniform on right now, because I think the odds were stacked against him. Good on him for being out there."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.