WINNIPEG - It appears Andrew Ladd was a tad surprised at his first real look at his potential new home.
The captain of Winnipeg’s new NHL team, fiancee in tow, poked his head into the ’Peg, Thursday, and much to his amazement didn’t find an isolated, mosquito-infested shantytown with one coffee shop and gravel roads that roll up every night.
“Even in my short time here, it’s a lot different than even I expected,” Ladd said, mentioning our selection of eateries and nice neighbourhoods, for starters. “I guess I didn’t really know what to expect.”
That’s how it is with most NHL players who’ve never been here for more than a cup of coffee — or a game in the minors.
Some even think we don’t have any parks (hello, Ilya Bryzgalov — are there enough Russians for you in Philadelphia?).
So Ladd decided to scout it out, on his own dime, not only for himself — as a potential restricted free agent, he has to decide if he wants a long-term relationship with us, or just a one-season fling — but for his teammates, who want to know if they’re moving to the end of the earth, or if you can at least see it from Portage and Main.
“We were kind of in limbo, and this hopefully gets the ball rolling,” the 25-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C., said. “Maybe I can provide some info for a lot of the guys that are unsure about what’s going on here and what it’s like. Especially how you’re treated with ownership goes a long way. And we didn’t have that great an experience in Atlanta with that.”
No, they didn’t.
So perhaps players will be willing to put up with a pothole or three, some bugs and five months of serious winter to be treated like real pros.
Ladd calls it the culture of an organization. The details, how your family’s treated, things like that.
The feel of the place, too. Are the higher-ups easy to talk to?
With his old assistant GM in Chicago, Kevin Cheveldayoff, waiting here to greet him with a big smile and a handshake, Ladd got an extremely positive first impression. And you only get one shot at that.
“Most players are just excited to play in Canada and be part of a hockey-crazy atmosphere,” Ladd said. “I’m sure there are guys that have their reservations about coming. But you’ve just got to come here and experience it, see what it’s like.
“If guys know coming in that it’s going to be an exciting, comfortable place to play, that’s only going to help.”
We should have the exciting part down. A hockey-starved province that gobbled up 13,000 season tickets worth some $200 million over the next five years will see to that.
Comfortable? Well, yeah, if you have a fireplace and a companion for those long winter nights.
Of course, nothing says comfort quite like cold, hard cash.
Which brings us to True North’s plan to hold tight the reins on this yet-to-be-named horse, keeping it in the lower-to-middle lanes of the NHL’s financial track.
For a guy like Ladd, who plays to win, that could be a deal-breaker, no?
“That’s fine,” the two-time Stanley Cup champ said. “As long as you know that when push comes to shove, after that building process and they know that there’s a chance to win, they’ll make the moves to help the team. As far as I’ve been informed, they’re willing to do that. That’s all I need to hear.”
Sounds like this negotiation should be smoother than a Teemu Selanne rush.
After trades out of Carolina and Chicago, and a now a relocation from Atlanta, Ladd sounds like a young man looking for a home.
Thursday, he may have truly seen it for the first time.
Just don’t tell him he beat the mosquitoes.