The New York Islanders made full use of the early negotiation period before free agency this summer, locking up former Jets captain Andrew Ladd before lunch on July 1st.
For five seasons Ladd was the unquestioned leader of the Jets: talented, physical, and loyal. But as he and Dustin Byfuglien inched towards free agency, the Jets decided to trade their captain and sign the big defenceman long-term.
On July 1st, the New York Islanders signed Ladd to a seven year, 38.5 million dollar contract. And 25 games into the season, he has been perhaps the most disappointing player on the NHL’s most disappointing team.
Maybe calling the Islanders the most disappointing team in hockey isn’t fair. They are 5-3-2 in their last ten, and thanks to the NHL’s bafflingly terrible points system they sit just six points out of a playoff spot. But they’re down to a one-in-five chance of making the playoffs according to hockeyviz.com, a calamity for a team coming off of a second-round playoff berth. Despite occasional brilliance from management — like their theft of Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy two summers ago — the Islanders have failed to build a contender around superstar John Tavares.
After letting long-time Islanders Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo leave as free agents this summer, the Isles made Andrew Ladd their big-ticket July 1st signing. But so far this season Ladd has put up just six points in 25 games, and spent time on the fourth line. In Winnipeg, Ladd was the model of consistency. He was a shoe-in for 50 points season-in, season-out; and some nights it felt like he was the only Jet to turn up to the rink. So what’s happened to the former Jets captain? Has Ladd lost a step, or is this just an early-season slump?
Looking at the numbers, there are signs of a real decline. Since 2014, Ladd has tumbled well below his usual first-line standard by both shot metrics and point production.
This decline dovetails with what we would expect for an (almost) 31-year-old, and should scare the crap out of Islanders fans. For another perspective, I reached out to Dominik of New York Islanders blog Lighthouse Hockey and asked for his impressions of Ladd’s play this season. He mentioned that the Islanders’ offensive struggles have prompted line-juggling from the coaching staff. As a result, Ladd hasn’t had a chance to gain familiarity with his new teammates. He added:
“On that note, the line of Ryan Strome, Shane Prince, and Ladd has looked good the last few games. Strome brings speed and creativity, and Prince brings speed on the forecheck, both of which look like they give Ladd room to be more effective.”
That line combined for a goal against the cross-town rival Rangers on Tuesday, with Ladd setting the play up via a nifty through-the-legs pass and then finding the twine from the slot.
Ladd put up 25 goals just last season; he is a talented, productive, physical player, and god knows he’s much better than his current 19 point season pace. He’ll bounce back, and make more plays like that goal: his five percent on-ice shooting percentage (league average is ~9%) is no small part of his tough start this year.
But if the Isles gave Ladd that long-term deal because they envisioned him as a linemate for John Tavares, they may have a problem. It’s worth remembering that the Jets offered Ladd a similar deal prior to trading him, rumoured at $36 million over 6 years.
The former Jets captain will turn it around. For at least the first few years of his contract, Ladd will bring offence, physicality, and leadership to the Isles’ young middle-six. But he no longer seems to be the energizing, difference-making presence he was as a Jet. While he could undoubtedly help the Jets’ playoff chances this year, fans should be thankful that he signed a long-term deal in Brooklyn, not Winnipeg.