Andrew Ladd's decision to sign a five-year, $22-million contract with the Winnipeg Jets hours before he needed to file for arbitration took one of the primary restricted free agents off the market Tuesday. Ladd was considered a priority signing for the Jets, who'd nibbled around the edges of free agency for the likes of Randy Jones, Derek Meech, Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien, but needed to make a splash - and did so here.
It was a pre-emptive strike of sorts for Winnipeg. The qualities that Ladd brings - two Stanley Cups on his résumé before the age of 25, career highs in goals (29) and points (59) - might have made him a target for a free-agent offer sheet from elsewhere around the NHL.
In their early days in Winnipeg, and needing to send a message about their commitment to retaining key personnel, it was a risk the Jets couldn't afford to take. Nobody ever really wins in salary arbitration, anyway, and Ladd's contract was structured in such a way that the Jets will pay him $4-million (all currency U.S.) for the 2011-12 season and then $4.5-million for its remaining years.
In effect, they bought out his first four years of eligibility for unrestricted free agency - and it cost them $18-million, or exactly what the Montreal Canadiens paid Erik Cole to play for the same number of years. That's the cost of doing business in this inflationary age, and Ladd could have opted for a one-year contract and tested the free-agent waters next summer if he'd chosen too.
"But looking at the big picture, I was in a great situation with the organization and my role with the team is a good one," said Ladd, who is getting married in Las Vegas in two weeks' time and now has a little added cash to defray the cost of wedding expenses. "It never really crossed my mind to go that route."
In similar fashion, but on a much smaller scale, the Toronto Maple Leafs got Clarke MacArthur signed to a two-year contract extension shortly before he was set to file for salary arbitration. MacArthur was a key addition last year to Toronto's lineup, scoring 62 points in 82 games and finishing just two points behind Phil Kessel for the team's scoring lead, after joining the Leafs as an unrestricted free agent.
Free agents had another good day overall, beginning with ex-Leaf Tomas Kaberle, who signed a three-year, $12.5-million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, who then promptly traded away defenceman Joe Corvo to Kaberle's former team, the Boston Bruins, for a fourth-round draft choice. In Carolina, Kaberle will be reunited with his former coach in Toronto, Paul Maurice, and play for the same team with which his brother Frantisek won a Stanley Cup in 2006.
After overseeing a steady exodus from his Phoenix Coyotes earlier this summer (Ilya Bryzgalov, Eric Belanger, Vernon Fiddler, Ed Jovanovski), general manager Don Maloney got his most important remaining asset signed when defenceman Keith Yandle agreed to a five-year, $26.5-million contract. The fact that the NHL-owned Coyotes gave Maloney permission to sew up one of the organization's key assets was significant, given the ongoing uncertainty of hockey in the Arizona desert.
There were a handful of minor signings Tuesday as well - Ottawa added enforcer Zenon Konopka on a one-year, $700,000 contract. Konopka played for the New York Islanders last season and managed to get into 25 fights. Scott Nichol joined the St. Louis Blues as a free agent, part of the continuing exodus out of San Jose, while the Columbus Blue Jackets signed depth defenceman Aaron Johnson.
But Ladd's signing was the most noteworthy and he struck a chord that the Jets hope will resonate with his teammates - and around the NHL, as well.
"To be back in Canada … is a big thing for any hockey player," Ladd said. "To say I haven't been thinking about our first game next year and what the atmosphere is going to be like, I'd by lying.
"It's been on my mind a lot and it's something that's been driving the excitement in my life right now. It's going to be fun to be back in Western Canada. My family can jump on a flight and get there pretty quick. And my fiancée has lots of family in the area, too, so it's going to be great for both of us.
"I'm just excited to get going."