The Winnipeg Jets are going to have some very difficult decisions to make about the direction of their franchise as they struggle through a lackluster season, but one choice was made on Monday as Dustin Byfuglien signed a new five-year pact with the team.
The deal will pay Byfuglien, an integral part of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, $38 million over the life of the contract, averaging out to a $7.6 million cap hit per season.
With Byfuglien signing a new deal, attention in Manitoba shifts toward the fate of captain Andrew Ladd, who will also be a free agent at the end of the season. Ladd is currently making $4.4 million per season, and at 30 years old, he figures to get a decent pay increase when his contract runs out at season’s end.
The Jets could still very well re-sign him, but with the decision to give Byfuglien a big contract extension, and with payers like Tobias Enstrom, Tyler Myers, and Blake Wheeler already locked up for big money and long contract terms, there is a very real possibility that the Jets will look to move Ladd before the NHL’s trade deadline later this month.
If they end up deciding to do that, the list of potential suitors would be long. Ladd brings a great mix of offensive skill and defensive intelligence to the table, and it gives him a great amount of flexibility in terms of where a coach can slot him in the lineup. He can play top line minutes if necessary, but he is a perfect fit for a team’s second or third line, depending on their needs.
If the Blackhawks wanted to potentially bring Ladd, who spent the 2010 Cup run with the team, back to Chicago, they could certainly find use for him. He could potentially allow Andrew Shaw to drop back to the third line if Joel Quenneville wants to slot him with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, or he could fit in on a re-constituted third line with Teuvo Teravainen shifting to the other wing spot.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, just because Ladd would be a fit doesn’t mean that he will come cheap. As a rental, Ladd won’t command a large price in terms of long-term prospects, but the Jets would certainly require at least one or two solid forward prospects from the Blackhawks to make such a deal happen, as there will be a lot of suitors coming forward (and a higher return required of a divisional opponent).
Players like Teravainen and Nick Schmaltz would almost certainly be off the table in any Ladd negotiations, but players like Vincent Hinostroza and Ryan Hartman could potentially be a fit in a swap if that’s the direction Stan Bowman wants the team to go.