This week, we at Jets Nation hope to provide you with some of the best (and free) in-depth coverage of the Winnipeg Jets as the trade deadline date fast approaches us. We’ll take a look at what the Jets have done, could do, and should do, with all the reasoning why and why not.
We turn our series looking at the Jets’ captain and leader Andrew Ladd, who may play his last home game as a Jet tonight.
1. Oh Captain, My Captain
It feels almost as if it were just yesterday. It was July 5th, 2011 that Andrew Ladd and the newly named Winnipeg Jets agreed to a 22-million dollar extension over five years after setting a career high 59 points for the Atlanta Thrashers.
There were a many who felt like the Jets overpaid, feeling that Ladd was more of a depth player than a top liner. Those individuals would often say something like “third line player on a Stanley Cup team.” They thought that Ladd’s scoring totals on the Thrashers were a mirage and a one-off.
Ladd proved those individuals wrong with Ladd giving far more than his contract value and playing as a bonafide top-line winger.
The Jets constructed their top-line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler, fondly called Ladd’s Little Wheeler, and they became not just one of the most commonly used top-lines in the NHL but also one of the most efficient lines. Despite not having that “elite talent” everyone thought the Jets missed, they performed as well, and sometimes better, than many of the lines with elite talent and more depth backing them. They matched up against the other team’s best and often outshot and outscored them.
Thus far over his tenure, Ladd has scored 159 points for 5v5 situations and 245 points overall, falling second only to common linemate Wheeler. For 5v5 situations Ladd has paced at 1.93 points per sixty minutes, a higher pace than any Jet aside from Wheeler and Kyle Wellwood.
In two-way numbers the Jets have controlled 53.08 of all shots (goals, saves, misses, blocks) with Ladd on the ice, which is 3.29 percentage points better than the Jets control with Ladd on the bench. Only Wellwood, Mathieu Perreault, Michael Frolik, and Nikolaj Ehlers have had a larger impact in shot differentials. Switching from shots to scoring chances we see a similar impact with 52.68 per cent of control, with the team being 2.96 percentage points better than with Ladd on the bench.
Ladd was not only effective at even strength, but was solid on special teams as well. The captain scored 3.42 points per sixty minutes with the Jets on the power play, which is a slightly above average rate. The Jets also controlled 15.35 per cent of all shots with Ladd on the penalty kill, better than any Jet not named Evander Kane or Blake Wheeler.
Overall, Ladd was a very effective and solid top-line player, and strong enough talent to play on the first line of a contending team without holding them back. If the Jets lose Ladd to trade, his contributions will be missed and will likely require many players to make up his loss.
2. Trade Value
Currently it is only speculation; no one has announced publicly if Ladd is truly on the trade block. However, all signs do seem to point out that Ladd could be playing his final game in Winnipeg and even he seems to understand that possibility:
#NHLJets captain Andrew Ladd says his camp hasn’t received a new contract offer this week, at least not yet
— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) February 23, 2016
Andrew Ladd says he hopes this isn’t his last home game with #nhljets and it will be “sad,” if it is
— gary lawless (@garylawless) February 23, 2016
Gary Lawless of TSN mentioned that there are six different teams looking at the Jets’ captain: Anaheim, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Washington. In the article he also adds some context of the possible price for Ladd, mentioning that a team has offered a first round pick and a prospect for his short-term services. A source from another team did suggest to me that the prospect was a more C level prospect and quite low on the other team’s depth chart.
This is only the start though, and Cheveldayoff may be able to get other teams to bid up Ladd’s price. As it stands the market does not really have a comparable for Ladd. The Carolina Hurricanes have Erik Staal, the Vancouver Canucks have Radim Vrbata, and Calgary has Jiri Hudler, but none of these players have been as effective or productive as the Jets’ captain as of late.
In addition Ladd is well thought of for his intangibles. His experience and leadership are coveted assets for other teams.
3. Filling the Hole
It’s been tough for the Jets at the wing over the past few seasons. Last year the Jets lost Frolik, Stempniak, and Tlusty to free agency, three bonafide top-nine wingers. Now the Jets may be losing one better than the other three, maybe even combined.
As we noted, he is going to be tough to replace, in production, defensive play, responsibility, and leadership.
The Jets are often a team that require depth to make up for an absence of elite talent, and without Ladd they will need it even more. The team needs to roll three scoring lines, or six top-nine wingers, to compete.
The Jets carry a bonafide top line winger in Blake Wheeler, maybe even elite as one of the highest scoring right-wing players over the past 3 seasons. Nikolaj Ehlers has only performed as an above average second line winger, in his rookie season. It wouldn’t be outrageous to assume the Jets potentially have two top line right wingers between the two (Ehlers is a left shot but prefers the right side).
Mathieu Perreault is about as perfect as it comes to the optimal depth player. He can play both centre and wing, win faceoffs, draws penalties, plays the power play, and has a dramatically positive impact on the team at 5v5. Between Perreault, Ehlers, and Wheeler the Jets should fair well enough for top three wingers. The only downside to Perreault is that his aggressive style leads him exposed and he has struggled to stay healthy.
While a flawed and imperfect player, Drew Stafford is still a useful player. His defensive game leaves a lot to be desired but he can put the puck in the net if he’s with players who are strong enough to carry him. To steal a Thomas Drance analogy, he cannot set the table, but he can feast.
Looking at this, the Jets do not necessarily need to replace Ladd himself. Some of Ladd’s loss should be covered through the development of Ehlers. The Jets will need to improve their depth on wing though to make up for that loss ground.
Optimally, the Jets will want someone who can fall between Perreault and Stafford on the depth charts, and then another forward who will not be over his head playing in the Jets top-nine.
The Jets two main players there have struggled to tread water:
They could potentially fill the last position in the top-nine but are unlikely to play well enough to pass Stafford in the depth chart. To be fair, there is still some potential in both of these players.
Burmistrov has two pervious seasons of being a bonafide top-nine talent. He has ultimately failed to return to his previous effectiveness since his visit in the Russian KHL, but that does not prevent him from bouncing back next year.
Meanwhile Armia has provided defensive value under some sheltered minutes but has struggled to create offense and scoring to make him worth a top-nine position. It is only his rookie season though, and some growth should be expected. That said, Armia is the same age as Scheifele and Lowry, and a player’s development and upside has more to do with their age than years experience at the top level. The average peak age is still a few years removed, with most players peaking at 24-26 in performance.
If the Jets fill that additional winger position above Stafford internally, they will likely require that help to come from the blue-chip prospect Kyle Connor.
The Jets’ own Kyle Connor is currently destroying the older competition in the NCAA. As an 18-year-old freshman, Connor leads the NCAA in both points and points per game. The speedy winger has posted 24 goals, 27 assists, for a total of 51 points over 28 games. This works out to a 1.82 point per game pace, which on average translates to a 52 point NHL player using the NHLE Scoring Model.
It is extremely rare for the NCAA to have a freshman perform that well, although we did see two marquee freshmen play well last season. Jack Eichel, albeit a year younger, put up a 1.77 point per game pace. An even better comparison though is Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, who scored a 1.34 point per game pace on the same team as Connor.
Some question if Connor is ready for the NHL, in much the same way they asked this of Ehlers last summer. In the end it seems that Connor has performed as solidly as one would hope in the NCAA. There is nothing left for Connor there. In addition, Connor is a tad older with a late birthday so should be more physically prepared than the average Draft+2 player.
It will be hard, but the Jets may be able to take a hit without too much of a step-back with the loss of Andrew Ladd, as long as players like Burmistrov, Armia, and Connor hit their stride. This just leaves centre, defense, goaltending, and the fourth line to worry about.