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Coyotes make fascinating bet by acquiring — and intending to play — Andrew Ladd

The newest Coyote has two years remaining on a $5.5 million AAV contract. Ladd has two Stanley Cup rings but has barely played at any level since 2019.

Vancouver Canucks v New York Islanders Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

The Arizona Coyotes have played this game before.

Back in 2016, former ‘Yotes general manager John Chayka acquired the remainder of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract from the Detroit Red Wings as part of a deal that saw Arizona move up four spots in the first round of that year’s draft.

Chayka agreed to absorb Marian Hossa’s contract from Chicago two years later; for the trouble, the Coyotes also received Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, and a third-round pick.

The Coyotes are hardly the only team to ever weaponize their cap space by relieving cash-strapped teams from their most egregious financial commitments.

However, after Saturday’s trade with the New York Islanders, the Coyotes’ history of trading for bad contracts officially spans over two separate managerial tenures.

Andrew Ladd is now a Coyote. The two-time Stanley Cup champion saw his uneven tenure in New York end on Saturday afternoon as part of a cap-clearing maneuver by Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello.

In exchange for taking on the final two years of Ladd’s hefty $5.5 million AAV contract, Arizona received three draft picks:

  • Colorado’s 2021 second-round selection (60th overall), previously acquired by the Islanders as part of the Devon Toews trade;
  • A conditional 2022 second-round selection (Arizona will receive the higher the two 2022 second-rounders New York currently possesses);
  • New York’s own 2023 third-round selection, conditional upon Ladd playing at least one game in the 2022–23 NHL season.

Yes, you read that right: Arizona will receive a reasonably valuable draft pick if Andrew Ladd plays a single game in the final year of the albatross seven-year contract he signed in 2016.

Neither Marian Hossa nor Pavel Datsyuk played a game with Arizona. Nobody ever expected to see either of them in a Coyotes sweater. To everybody in the state of Arizona — beyond, perhaps, the team’s accounting staff — they were Coyotes in name only.

Andrew Ladd will turn 36 in December. He played exactly one professional hockey game in the 2020–21 season and hasn’t suited up in the NHL since the 2020 bubble playoffs. Even in 2019–20, Ladd played in just five NHL games and 34 in the American Hockey League; the season before, he appeared in 26 contests with the Islanders.

At this point, it’s hardly even worth discussing whether Ladd can contribute positively at the NHL level. In his current state, with barely any recent gameplay and an extensive history of severe injuries, is he even capable of dealing with the physical challenges of professional hockey?

Ask him — and Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong — and the answer, at this point, sounds more positive than you might think.

“I’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting my body in a place where I feel great,” said Ladd on Saturday afternoon. “To have the opportunity to show that is an exciting prospect for me.”

“I think with our new coach [André Tourigny] coming in the door and preaching about the new culture that he wants to implement, I think Andrew Ladd can be a driver of that for us,” added Armstrong. “He’s won two Stanley Cups and he’s an unreal human being, from what I understand.

“I think he’s really going to help our culture, I think he’s going to help our leadership, and, as far as playing-wise, he’s got to go out there and earn it,” Armstrong added. “He’s really training hard, he believes he’s an NHL player and he can have an impact for us going into our lineup for next year.”

To the Islanders, Ladd represented a massive barrier preventing them from being able to re-sign critical players like Adam Pelech and Anthony Beauvillier.

Arizona managed to profit in a big way by weaponizing its seemingly endless salary cap space to absorb Ladd’s big-ticket contract while recouping some of the draft capital lost in last year’s combine testing sanctions.

While the likes of Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, and Ryan Callahan have landed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) after being traded in recent years for salary cap reasons, it doesn’t appear as though Ladd’s path forward will resemble those of his “LTIRetired” peers.

In fact, there’s a decent chance Ladd remains an option for the Coyotes beyond the 2021–22 season. Arizona has a significant incentive to keep Ladd — and play him — in the 2022–23 campaign, as illustrated in the condition attached to the third-round pick in the trade:

It’s far too early to tell whether Ladd will be a viable option to even appear as a fill-in during the 2022–23 season. Right now, it’s barely possible to project how he might fare in 2021–22.

Ladd is a six-time 20-goal scorer who last cracked that plateau in 2016–17, his first year with the Islanders. He fell to 12 goals and 29 points in 73 games the following year before managing just 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 26 contests with the Isles in 2018–19.

After suffering a torn ACL in 2019, Ladd proceeded to appear in a total of 40 professional games over the following two seasons (just one of which, with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, came in 2020–21). Two years of near-stasis can represent a death sentence for the career of a player in his mid-30s.

All we really have to go on are Ladd’s analytics from his truncated tenure with the Islanders. While he certainly didn’t live up to the expectations attached to his $5.5 million salary, Ladd certainly played NHL-calibre two-way hockey in New York.

Ladd averaged roughly 16 minutes of ice-time per game during his first two seasons on Long Island. In 2018–19, he saw his average usage drop to 13:51.

The Coyotes may not be as deep a team as Ladd’s old Islanders clubs. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine Ladd playing anywhere but in the bottom six. Even 13:51 might be too high an estimate of how much Ladd will play with the Coyotes.

Despite his career total of 48 power-play goals, it seems unlikely Ladd will be able to crack either of the Coyotes’ man-advantage units.

Evolving-Hockey appraised Ladd’s contributions to the Islanders’ power play in his three seasons as being worth minus-3.4 goals above replacement. His average PP time dropped from 2:09 in 2016–17 to just 37 seconds in 2018–19. At this point in his career, Ladd simply isn’t a weapon with the extra man.

Where Ladd might be able to help is on an Arizona penalty-killing unit. While he also saw his shorthanded deployments decrease in 2018–19 compared to the start of his Islanders tenure, he managed to contribute plus-0.1 goals above replacement in his 10:34 on the PK. He wasn’t excellent in shorthanded situations — not by any means — but he also didn’t hurt his team.

Ladd scored 39 goals and 72 points in his 181-game career with the Islanders, good for an 18-goal, 33-point pace over an 82-game season. It would be nothing short of miraculous if Ladd could manage that sort of production as a Coyote in 2021–22.

Remember, Ladd spent most of the 2019–20 season in the American Hockey League. He played 34 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, tallying a respectable 11 goals but only managing three assists. Despite playing an estimated 17:28 per game (according to Pick224), Ladd took just 65 shots in his 34 AHL contests.

Ladd averaged 6.75, 5.79, and 5.67 shots per 60 minutes (all situations) in his three seasons with the Islanders. In 2019–20, he averaged 6.57 shots per hour in his 34 AHL games. Given Ladd’s age and history, it’s not a great sign that he posted similar shot rates despite dropping down a league between the 2018–19 and 2019–20 campaigns.

In any event, Ladd is about to receive a fresh start in a completely new organization. If he makes the Coyotes out of training camp, it’s possible he could begin the 2021–22 season with a letter on his chest. Perhaps Tourigny chooses to deploy him as a defensive specialist or even as a “practice squad”-type reserve player.

Ladd appears determined to make his mark on the Coyotes, both on and off the ice. He’s a big-name player who has plied his trade with five different NHL teams, winning two championships along the way.

Make no mistake: Arizona coveted the opportunity to add high draft picks by acquiring an otherwise undesirable deal. While other deals of this ilk typically result in the bloated contract being buried in the AHL or stashed on LTIR, Arizona is betting on Ladd being able to provide value both as a weaponizable asset and as a teammate.

Any on-ice value Ladd can provide would be the gravy on top of Arizona’s newfound pile of draft picks.

Update July 30, 2021

Since this piece was originally published, the conditions have been confirmed on the third-round pick involved in the Coyotes/Islanders trade.

As first reported, the Coyotes would have received the Islanders’ 2023 third-round pick had Ladd suited up for one NHL game in 2022–23.

CapFriendly has since updated their listing on the condition to read as follows:

The pick is not transferred to Arizona if Ladd:
1. Plays in any professional games in 2022-23 while under his current contract, or
2. Retires prior to the conclusion of the 2022-23 regular season

The condition on the 2022 second-round pick remains the same as noted above.