Sunday, December 7, 2014

Andrew Ladd Autograph Card

I wasn't always sold on Andrew Ladd. I didn't follow his career in the minors and in Juniors, and hadn't heard of him until the Carolina Hurricanes selected him 4th overall in 2004, one spot ahead of now-teammate Blake Wheeler, but also Ladislav Smid (9th), Cory Schneider (26th), Mike Green (28th), Johan Fransson (34th), David Booth (53rd), Alexei Emelin (84th), Alexander Edler (91st), Johan Franzen (97th), Dustin Boyd (98th), Pekka Rinne (258th) and Mark Streit (262th).

He did contribute to Team Canada's gold-winning team the following season, though, posting 7 points in 6 games on a team that included Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook and goalie Jeff Glass.

He won the Stanley Cup with the Canes in his rookie season in 2005-06, but as a Montréal Canadiens (first-round loss and an eye injury to Saku Koivu) and Edmonton Oilers (losing in the Finals, in part because of an injury to Dwayne Roloson) fan, I tend to want to forget that ever happened. So his 5 points in 17 playoff games didn't faze me so much.

In his third NHL season, Ladd was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, and through two straight deep playoff runs (including another Cup win), I came to really appreciate what this young player could bring to a team. He didn't ''finish'' as much as I would have liked with 99 points off 37 goals in 184 regular-season games with the Hawks (plus another 10 points in 36 playoff games) for a player of his size and determination, on such a stacked team, but he helped balance the line-up, and he did create chances offensively and could hold his own on the defensive side as well. He was built to perform in the playoffs.

The Hawks were forced to shed salary to comply with the cap, and thus many of their supporting cast were traded, mostly to the Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers. Ladd joined former Hawks Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel on the team that would become the Winnipeg Jets after relocating. He was made captain almost right away, on the strength of his two Cup wins.

It wasn't an easy run, from the final year in Atlanta to the first three in Winnipeg, but the Jets are hanging on this season, currently sitting in 4th place of the Central division behind powerhouses Chicago, the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. It sure didn't look so bright earlier in the season, but decent goaltending and adept coaching by Paul Maurice made the seemingly depth-deprived Jets contenders for a playoff spot, with the help of Ladd's leadership.

The 6'3'', 205-pound left winger has become a reliable point producer with the Jets, good for over 20 goals and 50 points, with a breakout season in 2012-13, where he had 18 goals and 46 points in 48 games, earning Lady Byng and Selke consideration for the second time of his career. At just 28 years old, he might even be good for a couple of 30-goal and 70-point seasons, but as I mentioned before, the numbers don't tell his whole story anyway. If I were a general manager, I'd look to have him play on the second line, with another tough, tall, physical, dependable, defensively-responsible perpetual winner - a Mike Richards-type, if you will.

I had written the Jets' captain last April, sending 4 cards his way, and haven't heard back yet. Luckily, I fell on this one through a store owner who was conducting a case opening this summer:
It's card #AU-AL of the Auto Biography sub-set of Panini's 2013-14 Playbook collection, numbered 3/99, signed on-card in blue sharpie, with his jersey number (16) right in the middle of his signature. It shows him wearing the Jets' dark blue (home) uniform.

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