We’ve been hearing about the Andrew Ladd to Chicago Blackhawks rumblings for several weeks now. The team needs a little help at forward and have been shopping for a top-line wing all season long. Things fell into place for them as the Winnipeg Jets fell out of the playoff picture and were unable to figure out an extension that makes sense with Ladd.
With Winnipeg committing term and dollars to other pieces of the roster, there wasn’t room to re-sign Ladd while keeping other valuable pieces in place. The Blackhawks don’t need an asset beyond this year’s postseason though, and the 30-year-old wing is exactly what the team needed for this particular playoff run.
All that hangs in the balance is a shot at immortality — to be mentioned along with other dynasties like the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers teams of the 80’s. Chicago was already the best team in the Western Conference, and they just got a lot better for a variety of reasons. It’s fair to point out that Ladd is a player in decline, but he was asked to do a lot of heavy lifting in Winnipeg.
The former fourth-overall draft pick didn’t have players like Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa to line up with while a member of the Jets, but that’s what Chicago’s top line could look like once healthy. Let’s take a look at what the Blackhawks could roll out once at full health — namely getting Hossa back from injury, which could happen as early as this weekend.
Andrew Shaw has been a key cog on the top line this season, but he will likely relinquish that spot to the incoming Ladd. Good like trying to take the puck away from the trio of Ladd, Toews and Hossa. That line screams dominance, and will pose monstrous matchup issues whether the Blackhawks are on the road or at home.
Mostly because if the opposing team tried to go “best on best” with Chicago, they’ll still have to contend with arguably the best second line in all of hockey. Two of the NHL’s top 10 scorers reside within this second group. Patrick Kane has been the most prolific scorer in the league this year, while Artemi Panarin could very well earn the Calder Trophy for his work this season. Artem Anisimov is quietly approaching 20 goals and has been the perfect fit for Kane and Panarin.
The best thing that Ladd does for the Blackhawks is give them options. Head coach Joel Quenneville is notorious for his line blending, and he’s going to have a ball mixing and matching within this top nine. Don’t forget that this group also contains Teuvo Teravainen, Andrew Desjardins and Jiri Sekac (who has been skating on the team’s fourth line).
Shaw has been excellent on Toews’ left side this year, but he’d be able to punch way above his weight class if he ends up on the third line. It could also keep him a bit more fresh for those important power play opportunities. Ladd was deployed on Winnipeg’s No. 1 unit, but Chicago has other options to consider at this point.
Using Ladd heavily on the penalty kill is more likely than him knocking Shaw off Toews’ power play line. He was a strong penalty killer on a Jets team that liked to go for shorties, and Toews is already among the NHL’s best when it comes to scoring short-handed. Combine the two and they could create a real threat, even when skating a man down.
All told, the chain reaction that acquiring Ladd will have will be incredibly positive for the Blackhawks’ lineup. Chicago was already difficult to contend with, and they’ve challenged for (and won) Stanley Cups without a real No. 2 center, a bottom pairing on defense and some question marks at wing.
Now they have their second-line center in Anisimov and they addressed the need for a high-end wing in this trade for Ladd. It wasn’t a bad move for the Jets, but this puts the Blackhawks in prime position to win the Stanley Cup once again this year. This is one of the most talented forward groups that has been pieced together in the cap era, and will be tough to stop once healthy.