July 1 can’t come fast enough for Andrew Ladd, whose future has hung over him for well over a year. That’s because 12 months ago, Ladd's agent, J.P. Barry, was in contract talks about an extension with the Winnipeg Jets, a deal that seemingly would eventually get done, but never did.
The ensuing drama in hockey-mad Winnipeg overshadowed the season and eventually saw Ladd dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline as a rental player.
Now the unrestricted free agent -- who is coming off a five-year contract he signed with the Jets when he was 25 years old -- is close to finally cementing his future. Somewhere.
"Right now it’s like you just want to get there. It seems like we’ve been waiting for quite some time now to get the next contract,” Ladd said over the phone from Summerland, British Columbia, on Tuesday. "It’s exciting to think about the opportunities, [to] see who is interested.’’
The 30-year-old winger oozes character and has a top-notch work ethic, so he can certainly fill a top-six role on many teams.
What’s he looking for as a fit?
"First and foremost I want to play for a team that has a chance to win,” said Ladd. "I’ve kind of done the rebuild thing a little bit there in Winnipeg. At this point in my career I want a chance to win another Stanley Cup.
"And then, family-wise, just being in a good spot for my wife and kids, somewhere where they’re going to be happy and comfortable. I think those are the two most important things that I’m looking at," added Ladd, whose three children are 3 years old, 2 years old and two months old.
The Blackhawks, with whom Ladd won a Stanley Cup in 2010, are already up against the salary cap, so they’re not really an option. But he understood that when they brought him back for a second stint.
"Yeah, both sides kind of knew that," said Ladd. "You’re still holding out hope that something might be able to happen to fit it in, but I think we both knew that it would be pretty difficult. So I don’t think that’s going to happen. You never say never, but both sides know it’s probably not there."
A very common response among the agents I chatted with on Tuesday was that they’re in a holding pattern in a lot of their negotiations while they wait for the official salary-cap number. The league and NHL Players’ Association are expected to agree and announce the cap figure for next season sometime before the draft, which is June 24-25 in Buffalo. The window for agents and teams to start talking about unrestricted free agents from other teams opens at 12:01 a.m. ET on June 25 (so one minute past midnight on June 24) at the draft. That's perfect timing, since so many agents will be in Buffalo where all the general managers are.
It came down to Randy Carlyle, Travis Green and Rick Bowness as the final three candidates for the Anaheim Ducks' head coaching job and the club went with a familiar face, announcing Tuesday they had brought back Carlyle for a second stint. I think Green will be a very good NHL head coach one day but the Ducks are in win-now mode. So bringing back Carlyle, the coach of the 2007 Cup championship team, has merit in that regard. I also think he has mellowed a bit over time. And while people remember things ended on a sour note last time in Anaheim for Carlyle, this is a guy with 36 playoff wins from 2006-11, and who has a 11-6 record in elimination games.
I think Bowness deserves another shot as head coach somewhere one day, but for now he's staying put in Tampa Bay. On Tuesday he signed a multiyear extension to remain associate head coach with the Lightning.
It's no surprise, but pending UFA Kyle Okposo is all but certainly headed to the free-agent market. At 28, the winger is just entering his prime years, so expect there to be some fairly huge interest in him come July 1. Okposo was second in points on the New York Islanders this past season, with 64 (22-42) in 79 games. His agent, Pat Brisson, did recently chat with Isles GM Garth Snow, but it doesn’t sound like anything developed. "All indications are that we’re headed to free agency with Kyle," Brisson said Monday.
In a perfect world I think the New York Rangers would love to bring back pending UFA defenseman Keith Yandle, but there haven’t been any contract talks because the Blueshirts would have to move out money before they even pick up the phone with Yandle's agent. So unless the Rangers are able to make cap space soon, all signs point to Yandle becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. There shouldn’t be any shortage of interest in a puck-moving, power-play stud like him.
Negotiations are ongoing between the Nashville Predators and young star forward Filip Forsberg, who will be a restricted free agent on July 1, on a long-term deal. There's no reason to think it won’t get done.
There has been a fairly constant dialogue between pending UFA goalie Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes, but they're not close yet and the clock is ticking toward July 1. I think Ward would prefer to stay in Carolina with the only team he’s ever played for, but he has no guarantee that will happen.
Mike Yeo had a few chats with the Calgary Flames about their vacant head coaching job but ultimately I think he landed in the top spot on his list in St. Louis. He’s signed for four years with the Blues, the first as an associate to Ken Hitchcock, and the last three as head coach, when he takes over as head man in 2017-18 after Hitchcock retires. The Minnesota Wild still owe Yeo a year on his contract as head coach, so financially it looks like it’s all going to work out for him.
Forward Trevor Lewis is a very useful bottom-six forward who kills penalties and he will also be a UFA on July 1. The Los Angeles Kings are hamstrung by the salary cap and so it’s not clear where that’s headed. Lewis would be a nice pickup for a contender come July 1 should he not re-sign with the Kings.