The Winnipeg Jets were a bit of a Cinderella story last year when they made the playoffs and brought postseason hockey to Winnipeg for the first time in more than 25 years. They have failed to carry over that success to this season, though. The Jets currently find themselves last in the Central Division and just two points ahead of last place in the NHL.
The focus in Winnipeg for most of the season has been on the contract negotiations with pending unrestricted free agents Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. On Monday, the Jets announced a five year, $38 million contract extension with Byfuglien. Byfuglien's lofty new $7.6 million cap hit makes it unlikely that the Jets will be able to re-sign Ladd, which means he will probably be traded before the Feb. 29 NHL Trade Deadline.
Acquiring Ladd would make a lot of sense for the Chicago Blackhawks, who have been in search for a true first line left winger nearly all season. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have struggled to find consistent success this season in large part to the inconsistency they've experienced in linemates.
Teuvo Teravainen had some success there, but the lineup has really found balance with him on the third line. Andrew Shaw has been good there as well, but he isn't a realistic long-term option at the position and would be better used in a bottom-six role.
The team's loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday only served as further evidence that the Blackhawks are in need of an additional top-six winger. With Artemi Panarin out of the lineup due to illness, Chicago's offense looked lost for most of the night. They were largely unable to accomplish much of anything in terms of scoring chances for most of the game. With Teravainen taking Panarin's role on the second line, the bottom six was largely unimpressive as well.
Ladd is arguably the best possible solution to the first-line left wing issue. The 30-year-old Winnipeg captain has 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 52 games this season with 19 of those points coming at even strength. He's posted a very respectable 51.1 percent CF despite owning a Relative Offensive Zone Start Percentage of -3.7 percent. His production and strong two-way play make him an ideal fit beside Toews and Hossa, two of the league's premier two-way players.
In addition to his production, Ladd's history with the Blackhawks makes him a perfect fit. Ladd was a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning Chicago team, a season in which he posted 38 points in the regular season and added six more in the playoffs. His familiarity with the team's system means he could fit in seamlessly alongside Toews and Hossa, giving Chicago one of the strongest top-six forward groups in the NHL.
Ladd's two-way game also lends to a lot of versatility, giving head coach Joel Quenneville plenty of options when it comes to using Ladd. He can be used in all situations, including on the power play and penalty kill. Quenneville has repeatedly expressed his appreciation for versatile players this season, so the addition of Ladd would certainly be met with acceptance by Chicago's bench boss.
The good news for the Blackhawks is that Ladd's cap hit is within their affordable price range. Because salaries are prorated throughout the season in the NHL, Chicago has over $4 million in cap space as its disposal for the trade deadline. That means any deal for Ladd would really only require the movement of a smaller cap hit such as Brandon Mashinter, who could easily be sent to Rockford to keep the Hawks cap compliant.
Still, the best option for the Blackhawks is to offer Winnipeg a package centered around Andrew Shaw. Shaw is a versatile player who has proven his ability to be effective in whatever role he plays. He brings energy to compliment a decent skill-set and is a former 20-goal scorer. He is set to be a restricted free agent at season's end, so that would represent some uncertainty for the Jets, but it's unlikely that Shaw would command too much money or term, so it shouldn't be too difficult for the two sides to get a deal done.
However, just Shaw would not be enough to get the deal done, as Winnipeg may be looking to acquire a draft pick. In that case, there's a potential deal in this where Chicago sends Shaw and their 2016 third-round pick to Winnipeg in exchange for Ladd.
Another option Chicago has is offering their first-round pick straight up for Ladd. If the pick alone isn't satisfactory to the Jets, Chicago could offer up prospect like Vincent Hinostroza, Mark McNeill or Tanner Kero to sweeten the deal a bit. If none of that interests the Jets, a last resort could be to offer something like Shaw, McNeil and the first-round pick in exchange for Ladd and a third- or fourth-round pick.
While giving up a first-round pick for the second straight season is not ideal, upgrading the first-line left wing spot from Shaw to Ladd would make the Blackhawks better and put them in a much better position to contend for the Stanley Cup. This trade would be very fair value for both sides and winning another Stanley Cup is definitely worth relinquishing the 30th overall pick.
Overall, Ladd makes a lot of sense as a potential trade target for the Blackhawks. He is productive enough to play on the top line and his game would fit well alongside Toews and Hossa. Centering a deal around Shaw makes sense as well, considering Chicago has players like Ryan Hartman, Kyle Baun, and Graham Knott in the pipeline. The Jets will likely look to move their captain before the deadline and Chicago is capable of offering an attractive package for a player that would fill a key role for them.
Adam Hess is a staff writer at Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter at @_adamhess.
Statistics via War on Ice. Cap information via Cap Friendly.