Editor’s note: Ryan Lambert talks about five things to look at with the Andrew Ladd pending free agent situation.
Let’s take a look.
1. Understanding the situation
I wrote about this subject, in a way, on Puck Daddy earlier this week. Namely, that the Jets are facing an odd conundrum when it comes to re-signing two of arguably their most important players in one summer, and that there is and perhaps ought to be a decent amount of mystery around it.
The odds are that the Jets are only going to keep one of the two players in question, and while Dustin Byfuglien is great and everything, the fact that rumors about him being traded have been swirling for years, plus Andrew Ladd being the captain of the club, makes it pretty obvious which guy is going to stay and which will go, if his going becomes the only viable option. Most people seem to be ballparking the Byfuglien extension around $7 million, which sounds about right for a step-below-elite defenseman. I, and a lot of other people, figure that’s just too rich for Winnipeg’s blood.
Meaning that in all likelihood, it will be Ladd that ends up staying in Winnipeg. But estimates of where his contract is going to land aren’t that numerous yet. It’s hard to track down these kinds of numbers when contract talks are still in their relatively nascent stages, by all accounts. But that doesn’t stop us from projecting, does it?
2. Establishing a baseline
When you think about what Ladd is going to get from Winnipeg, one of the first things to consider is who he “plays like.” There are a number of different ways to establish such a baseline. The easiest way to do this is to simply look at production.
From 2013-present, Ladd has an impressive 68-102-170 in 220 games (0.77 points per game). In terms of overall points, that’s 29th in the league over that time, which is a mighty impressive number. In terms of points per game, it’s tied with Derek Stepan for 34th, which is still pretty good.
But of course production doesn’t always tell us everything about a player. To that end, we have the War On Ice Similarity Scores calculator to help us in evaluating Ladd’s value. And because we can also filter that kind of thing for age, we can perhaps guess at where his production not only has been, but will go in the next several years. Last season, he compared most closely to the age-28 season of Erik Cole (2007-08), age-29 Ryan Callahan’s 2014-15, and age-29 Kristian Huselius (2008-09). In 2013-14, it was guys like Scott Hartnell and Chris Kunitz (who were aided by Claude Giroux and Evgeni Malkin in the comparable seasons). Before that, it was Anze Kopitar, Giroux, and Jamie Benn.
That’s fairly impressive company, though you can obviously see that he’s trending down a bit in terms of quality, as players tend to do in their late 20s. But if you want to say that Ladd is perhaps a top-30 forward in this league, I wouldn’t be willing to put up too much of a fight.
3. What makes sense?
If we’re going on the hypothesis that Ladd is a top-30 forward in this league, that immediately gives us a good idea of what he should be paid. Currently, the guy with the 30th-largest cap hit among forwards is Henrik Zetterberg, who signed a no-longer-legal extension back in 2009-10 that keeps his cap hit at $6.083 million until 2020-21, when he’ll be approximately 320 years old.
But what’s interesting is that there is a huge gap between Zetterberg at 30th, and Derek Stepan/Thomas Vanek, who are tied for 28th at $6.5 million. Just ahead of them is Patrick Marleau ($6.67 million) and Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7 million).
I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that Ladd is better or more important to his team than Nicklas Backstrom, so $6.7 million feels like the absolute ceiling on this contract as far as I’m concerned. In writing many columns like this (and ending up within $500,000 on my estimate more often than not) I’ve found that NHL teams don’t often take inflation into their cap calculations when making these decisions, meaning that Backstrom’s cap-adjusted $6.7 million five years ago being worth more than $8 million now probably won’t factor into things now (even if it should). In much the same way the Red Wings would always say, “Hey, no one can make more than Nick Lidstrom,” GMs can say the same thing and usually don’t do too much budging unless they really value the player.
And again, Winnipeg should really value the player. But given that they’re paying for his age-30 seasons and beyond, a number of other factors have to come into play. First of all, I wouldn’t expect this deal to exceed six years, and I’d be more comfortable going with five were I in Kevin Cheveldayoff’s position. That age should also serve to depress the money a little bit, but one supposes that teams are always willing to pay more for leadership than they probably should.
4. Other things to consider
In addition to all this, though, it’s also important for Cheveldayoff to keep in mind that the team has a lot of young and very good players it will need to re-sign in the next few years. Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele, and Michael Hutchinson are all due new deals this summer. The next summer it’s basically half the forward group, including Nic Petan, Alex Burmistrov, Drew Stafford, and Mathieu Perreault, plus Connor Hellebuyck. Fortunately the Ondrej Pavelec is coming off the books at that point, so that will help.
But you see the general point: Winnipeg — a budget team that hasn’t, doesn’t, and perhaps never will spend to the cap — cannot afford to splash the cash around on even deserving candidates. Thus my belief Byfuglien isn’t on the roster at the start of next season.
Does that affect the Ladd negotiations as well? Almost certainly. If Ladd wants to stay with the Jets, and he should because they’re an up-and-coming team that will still pay him a bunch of money, he might be told that he has to take less than he’d get on the open market. Is not-moving and staying with a team on a clear path to greater success worth, say, $500,000 or more to him? We’ll just have to see.
In addition, you have to also keep in mind that what he commands on the open market might not be as significant as he thinks. Because while he’s a top-30 forward and probably a top-50 player overall in the NHL, there are a lot of really good players hitting the market this summer as well, assuming they don’t re-sign first. We’re talking Eric Staal, Steven Stamkos, Anze Kopitar, Milan Lucic, David Backes, and Loui Eriksson among forwards alone. Throw in defenders and you can also include Byfuglien, Keith Yandle, Brian Campbell, and Alex Goligoski.
So lots of money is going to be thrown around this summer. Ladd should get a huge chunk of it, but it potentially also dampens his negotiating power somewhat.
5. A guesstimate
With all these things considered, I’d have to say that I expect the Ladd contract to be five or six years (as I said) at about $6.5 million, give or take.
That bumps him up into the top-30 among forward cap hits, and into the mid-40 range overall. It’s also a raise of 47 percent from his current salary, and I don’t think you’ll find too many 30-year-old UFAs who jump that much in a single summer.
That also probably gives the Jets plenty of wiggle room to help the team in other ways going forward. Which should be the ultimate goal for Cheveldayoff anyway.