The lesson of Andrew Ladd’s NHL career is also a primer on salary caps – the problems inherent with managing them and the impact they can have on a player’s career.
Long before Ladd ever spent a couple of years in New York Islanders’ limbo, he was one of the first casualties of the Chicago Blackhawks’ decades-long tango with salary-cap issues.
In July 2010, days after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, Ladd was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ivan Vishnevsky and a second-round pick. Chicago had to ditch salary after their championship season – just one week before, three other Blackhawk teammates (Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager) were also dispatched to the Thrashers in a separate deal.
But learning to deal with feelings of being unwanted go back even further than that, according to Ladd.
“For me, it started in junior,” said Ladd. “I was cut twice in junior, when I was 16 and 17, and even in bantam, I was cut from my triple-A team. So, when things haven’t gone well for me, I’ve done a pretty good job of not feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I’d ask, ‘what can I do to give myself a better chance to move forward?’
“Things didn’t work out in Long Island. I could have pouted and been upset that I wasn’t playing or that I was sent to the minors. I tried to consciously choose a different course – try to get my body back healthy and to try and work on different skills. Maybe other people wouldn’t have seen that as an opportunity, but I tried too.”
Ladd was speaking on the telephone from Phoenix, where he is now a member of the rebuilding Arizona Coyotes. In mid-July, he was traded by the Islanders to the Coyotes, along with a pair of second-round draft choices and a conditional third. The Islanders received future considerations in return.
The primary benefit to the Islanders was trading away the final two years of the seven-year, $38.5 million contract Ladd originally signed with them back in 2016, which carries an annual salary-cap charge of $5.5 million, though Ladd’s compensation for the final two years of the deal is a more modest $4 million.
Ladd is relishing the opportunity to play once again, after getting into only 30 NHL regular-season games over the past three seasons.
Now 35, Ladd is a two-time Stanley Cup champion (Carolina in 2006, Chicago in 2010). He played five strong seasons for the Winnipeg Jets, where he was their captain until being traded back to Chicago for a playoff push in 2016. He has played 950 NHL games; one of his goals for the coming season is to crash through the 1,000-game threshold.
The Coyotes are in the midst of an ambitious reset, in which they’ve taken on a number of veteran players who were acting as salary-cap anchors for their existing teams, in the hope that they can provide stability in a fluid and evolving environment.
It helps too, if the players are – like Ladd – motivated with something to prove.