Blackhawks Confidential

Olczyk names Andrew Ladd as Blackhawks player team will miss most

Ed Olczyk didn't mince words when asked in a live appearance Friday morning on the NBC Chicago newscast which of the capsized Blackhawks thrown overboard to save the top-heavy financial ship would be missed the most.

"Andrew Ladd," he said.

Not a name too familiar to all those late-arriving Blackhawks fans who leaped onto the rolling bandwagon down the stretch when it was mostly uphill.

Kris Versteeg scored three more goals and six more points than Ladd's 17 goals and 38 points last season. Dustin Byfuglien received more attention as a huge physical presence than Ladd in many cases. Certainly, Buff is better known than Ladd.

But in Edzo's eyes, Ladd brought the versatility to play varied roles on different lines and a rough-and-tumble aggressiveness that can't be easily replaced. So Ladd being traded to Atlanta for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second-round pick in 2011 was the most meaningful loss the Hawks suffered in the house cleaning, as far as the Hawks TV color analyst is concerned.

For me, he makes a valid point. It raises the question of was it necessary?

Antti Niemi's name was thrown out to Olczyk as perhaps the player the Hawks would miss most. Again, Niemi was a bigger media name than Ladd. Edzo obviously agreed goaltending is essential--and yet he immediately pointed to Ladd as the guy we will wish we had back as this season goes along.

Ladd made $1,650,000 last season in Chicago (cap hit $1,550,000) and was able as a restricted free agent to get a 2010-11 salary with the Thrashers at $2,350,000. It was a raise of $700,000, rather modest for a multi-talented winger who just won a Stanley Cup.

Is there really no possible way that general manager Stan Bowman could have worked an extra $700,000 into the cap squeeze to retain Ladd? Or in the end was Ladd just too far under the radar, despite being appreciated by hockey aficionados, to truly justify trying to find common sense ground with the RFA?

The Hawks likely made a qualifying offer to Ladd well below $2.35 mllion. But when assessing raises, Ladd's attempt to get a justified increase had more merit and a lot less moolah involved than Niemi's.

Wasn't he worth $700,000 more? Even if he wasn't such an obvious star?

Trading Ladd may have been a penny-pinching move by Bowman he will come to regret.

While Olczyk was effusive, as usual, in praising the difficult offseason job that Bowman did in restructuring the roster, keeping Ladd for another $700,000 could be the decision that is most rued in time as we glance back at how the champions were disassembled and exiled based on need and salary.

You can question whether Versteeg is going to score a lot more now in Toronto. You can question if Byfuglien will ever be a consistent bulwark at the net for Atlanta and be the force he was at times, especially in the playoffs.

But the real question seems to be who replaces Ladd in adding both consistency and pugnaciousness. Troy Brouwer supposedly is being asked to do it, but long spans of inconsistency on Brouwer's resume raise questions about whether he can do so for a long stretch of games with only periodic lapses and not sustained slumps.

Coach Joel Quenneville, according to Chris Kuc's story in The Tribune, has laid down a challenge to Brouwer to be better. I like it better when players don't need to be motivated by anything other than their internal fire to be their best. There is no doubt that such outside prompting by Q makes me wonder why Brouwer can't get the best out of himself by himself.

Brouwer started last season like gangbusters. He eventually flattened out like a pancake, but had enough team help to survive the nosedive. That margin for error has vanished.

Defenseman Nick Boynton and John Scott are expected to provide toughness, but Ladd did it as a forward who put himself in harm's way behind the net and also in board battles. He did it with a reasonable 67 penalty minutes last season.

And he even scored a hat trick against Detroit last March for good measure. Ladd wasn't ham-handed in the manner of some tough guys. He has touch and toughness, a rare combination.

What the Hawks don't need is guys piling up silly penalty minutes trying to prove how tough they are. Watching Tampa Bay giving Jonathan Toews a rough ride in that first exhibition game, baiting him with a stick to the body repeatedly, until our little Johnny had had enough and retaliated to get a penalty, I wonder if we will see teams trying to tease Toews and the other Chicago stars just like that.

Stick 'em until it hurts and see if the retaliation is what's called.

With a somewhat limited offense, if opponents can hammer Toews and whomever to be positive distractions for them and egg Boynton (Mr. Throat Slash, but not much of a fighter) and Scott and whomever else (how about Kyle Beach?) to retaliate too much, it could throw the Hawks off their focused game plan.

It's times such as this that Ladd will be missed. You can look all you want in an exhibition game Friday night in Detroit and not see Ladd's replacement just jump out at you. Preseason is not for such serious affairs.

It's the regular season when we must hope Ladd's replacement appears and is evident for all. Even if Brouwer is as good as last year, or slightly better, someone must replace Ladd and help Brouwer out.

Who is that someone? And was a $700,000 divide enough to lose the edge Ladd gave the Hawks?

No reason crying over spilled beer. But it's a question that may linger as this season progresses, especially if Ladd's replacement never shows up and Brouwer continues to be Brouwer, good a lot of times and other times not so good.

Ladd was good enough a lot of times, taken for granted. You don't always know what you have until it's gone.

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29 Comments

Stylin19 said:

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I agree losing Ladd is going to make this years team different than last years causing new people to step up and into the spotlight that now is playing Chicago hockey. However, I also think that the core of the Hawks is smart enough and talented enough to adapt to different "role-playing" personnel. Scott can play offense or defense and has done so,and Bickell,Dowell and throat slasher Boynton should be able to pick up the slack. Yes the Hawks lost a lot of players in the off-season but how much star talent did they really lose? Before last year most people couldn't name Ladd, Buff, or Burrish. And Versteeg was still developing. The Hawks still have all their key players and the new guys will get to play with the best core in the NHL. I have yet to put a lot of stock into "losing" those players. But we will have to see once the actual season starts not after the result of one exhibition game where the Hawks only had 3 or 4 starters playing.

Mike Kiley said:

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I put no stock in losing any exhibition game. I hardly put any stock in playing or watching any exhibition game. But it will be interesting to catch Corey Crawford in goal Friday night in Detroit. Since Turco has a bad history of winning/losing in Detroit, be nice to know Crawford can survive Joe Louis Arena.

SDSTAN said:

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I totally agree with you about Ladd, he was consistent, took the body, and scored a huge hard-working goal when you needed it (game 6 go-ahead tip-in goal and OT goal against the Nucks 2 years ago come to mind) Hard to replace and what is he, like 23?

Mike Kiley said:

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He's 24 currently and will be an aged, decrepit 25 on his birthday in December. Should have been part of the young guns they kept.

borg said:

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Ladd's a really nice player who will definitely be missed, maybe as much for his personality as his hockey. But if you saw Versteeg's performance last night, you might be inclined to say him.

TRS said:

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Borg, I too was impressed with Versteeg's performance against the Flyers and I was impressed with Ladd's during the playoffs. He blocked several shots. Too bad the cap isn't a bit higher. If hockey continues to gain viewership, salaries (and cap) should move in step.

Staley said:

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Ladd's a solid player with a little grit, a little scoring, and is a good teammate. That being said, this article is definitely misleading. It was not merely 700k that kept him from remaining on the roster. Ladd's role (3rd line winger) will be filled by one or more of the likes of Skille, Makarov, Bickell, Pisani, etc. None of them will make over 600k. Even so, the Hawks are right up against the cap. So, we couldn't afford Ladd at his expiring salary of 1.7m, and certainly cannot come close to affording his new salary of 2.4m. So, at the end of the day, even if they could afford it, is a player that does not log any PP or PK minutes worth 2.4m? I think not, despite Ladd being a great role player.

Hostile Hawk said:

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Players like Ladd do not come around very often. Guys who are as tough as him, smart as him, or talented as him all at the same time do not come along too often. When you posed this question during the summer, Ladd was my gut reaction as well. However, his role is replaceable. Some of the guys who left have the potential to become irreplaceable. We know what Versteeg is capable of, and Buf. Versteeg has superstar talent inside there somewhere. The verdict is still out on Niemi, but my bet is that we really miss him too. It is just unlikely the Hawks find a guy who is as composed as Ladd and is a force to reckon with. He did his job well and without penalties. That is where his special talent resides. Brouwer is a likely candidate and might put in 30 goals to boot.
Coaching is key here. Lots of people were happy to see Q get the new contract, I say the verdict is out on him more than any player on the ice. Last year, most coaches would have won. This year requires making the tougher decisions and showing more consistency. With the right coaching Brouwer will be that guy everyone is looking for, and so will some of the new, young talent. With the wrong coaching, this will be a long season.

Jerry Kayne said:

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"Last year, most coaches would have won."

You can say that about every coach in any sport. People still say that about Phil Jackson and he won championships with 2 teams. How about Scotty? Was he over rated because he had an over-abundance of talented players? I bet you can say many coaches tanked because they mis-managed a high quality team.

I agree with the loss of Ladd. He's one of those middle of the road salary players that most teams can't afford.

But I rememberI reading a Dear Abby quote around 30 years ago that said something like: a finger in water hold an important place but when pulled out the water covers over as if the finger was never there. That thought always made me work harder in my job rather than think I was so important I couldn't be replaced. Anyone can be replaced.

beaverwarrior said:

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I've heard this(most valuable ex-hawk)somewhere else before....

VegasHawksFan said:

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When I heard about Ladd going, I was pretty bummed. Guys like him can make a great living drifting through teams because they are solid and can grind. On a night when top lines are getting shut down because of matchups, a guy like Ladd can become very dangerous. I think that no matter where he goes, he will be a very solid player and asset to the team.

On another front, I have to agree with puck on coach Q. Not all coaches win the cup just because the have talent and I give him his due for that. Still, after watching the wings last night, I shook my head. No matter who is on the ice for that team, you know what you are going to see, strong team defense, players setting picks for each other, a big fucking dude in front of the goalie and deflections that defy reality. The Wings are not the only team to execute a simple game plan with precision and I don't think Q needs to try and copy them. Still, I think he needs to find something that works with his group and everyone needs to have defined role if they are going to sustain momentum. Building a lasting dominance doesn't happen in one year.

Hawkeyeverynite said:

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The Red Wings suck. THey played all their big guns against the Hawks C-team last night and barely squeaked out a win.

borg said:

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The Wings dominated that game. If not for a post and a wrongly called-off goal, that was a 5-2 game.

Hawkeyeverynite said:

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Point is, who cares about the Wings? Nklhd talks them up like One-Team's lover. Screw that. Unless I missed something the Hawks won the Cup last year and the Wings didn't make it past round 2. So who has the better game plan?

VegasHawksFan said:

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Thank you for that in depth analysis. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. WINGS SUCK! GO HAWKS WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Hawkeyeverynite said:

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A daily exorcism can be beneficial to our Hawk health.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Actually, you may have a point there.

OneTeam said:

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Turco looked pretty good Saturday night. Perhaps a change of scenerey could end his woes against the Wings. It was our turn to ice the C team but still...he made some great saves.

Ps- Hawkeyeverynite, Go Wings!

Hawkeyeverynite said:

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OT, I knew you'd eventually chime in on this section of the thread. I know your little secret, although admittedly it's your best one by a mile. So good that I'm leaving it alone.... for now.

pilote3 said:

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Thanks Mike agree 1000%.Most underated Hawk there was.His board game was awesome! I believe he cant b replaced

Hostile Hawk said:

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Skille was really impressive last night, and so was Pisani. I expect those two, along with Morin to make the cut. I am liking what I see from the newbies so far.
Turco delivered with his ability to control the puck, creating a much stronger transition game for the Hawks. This element might be instrumental in the Hawks success this year, they will look very different as a result, probably giving Keith and Campbell a huge jump in the points category. That saucer pass to Kane was absolutely sick.

VegasHawksFan said:

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I liked the comment Foley made too about how it puts opposing defenses in a bad spot where they have to think twice about making a switch. From all the kids, I liked seeing shots on net and guys going to the net. Kopecky may not have scored from right in front last night, but if they do that at least once every power play they are going to be rewarded. Speaking of the power play, the puck movement in general looked a lot better. Q has some moderately difficult decisions to make and that's a great thing to have at the end of pre season.

borg said:

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I could do without Kopecky getting so much PP time. Unless they start awarding goals for players falling on the ice, then I don't how Kopecky is expected to help.

VegasHawksFan said:

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You forgot to mention goals for helmet flying off too though that happened less then falling yesterday.

Hostile Hawk said:

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Great point, the power play was great to watch. It may have been due to Detroit being without their PK guys, but the movement was still great. I liked how Kane was hovering even higher than usual, resulting in having more options, and they reacted quicker, making the move to the net and taking the shot.

borg said:

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If Skille, Pisani and Potulny make the team, that would leave 1 spot at forward for Stalberg, Dowell, Morin and Makarov.

Makarov is almost certainly headed to the AHL and Dowell would be too if Potulny is the 4th center. That means it's between Stalberg and Morin for the final wing spot. I can't tell how the Hawks are leaning on that matchup.

Hostile Hawk said:

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My vote is that Morin is in. I feel he has shown enough already. His vision on the ice is very surprising. His passing shows a wisdom I did not expect from the newbies. Makarov has really good promise, he probably goes down to the AHL, but we might see a decent amount of him throughout the season.

borg said:

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I'm betting it isn't Morin.

The great thing is that not only does Morin look like he might be special in the future, he looks like he's close to being a regular at 19. My guess is one full year at Rockford and then he gets a top-2 line spot.

Dave Morris said:

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Michael, one can be surprised you are quoting Joni Mitchell instead of Willie Mitchell (or General Billy Mitchell, for that matter), but few will contest your contention that The Ladder was badder than most Hawks in the flock.

But when fur flies and shekels are short, the razor must be wielded. Woulda-shoulda-coulda The Bow Man have found the mazuma to mitigate his swinging scalpel? Alas, we can only guess.

We do know this: for all the kvetching about various members of the Mighty Blackhawks last year, there will be equal amounts of kvetching this year about the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks. The Kvetch Krowd just haven't figured out all the names on the dance card yet.

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