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Left Wing Replacements for Andrew Ladd: UFA Targets

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Let us now eagerly await the Andrew Ladd contract extension, an announcement which has surely been kept secret for the sole purpose of making this article irrelevant.

Marianne Helm/Getty Images

In case you hadn't heard, the Winnipeg Jets captain is reportedly asking for at least $41 million over 6 years, which works out to a $6.833 million average annual value. While there has since been "positive movement" on the Andrew Ladd front, his return remains far from certain, to say nothing of whether the team should bring him back at those figures.

Part of the evaluation process when making that call needs to be contemplating how one might replace Andrew Ladd. The Jets captain is far from perfect, but his departure would create a sizeable left wing hole in the top-six. Once upon a time, the answer might have been obvious, but as of February of 2015 Evander Kane isn't walking through that door. While there are internal alternatives who might also fit the bill, today let's look at some options not currently on the Winnipeg Jets depth chart.

When drawing up a list of possible external replacements, the easiest category to pin down are pending unrestricted free agents. Speculation over potential trade targets is best left for HFBoards (or a future article **wink wink**), and let's be honest, I'll believe a trade to replace Andrew Ladd when I see the confirmation tweet from Aaron Ward Bob McKenzie. It's hard to account for unqualified RFA silliness à la Mathieu Perreault, and as much as I would love for the Jets to offer sheet Jason Zucker, Vegas might give you better odds on Steven Stamkos signing with Winnipeg.

And so, here is a relatively fleshed out list of pending 2016 UFAs, ones which might prove interesting in the quest to spell Andrew Ladd:

The A-Team(ish)

Two Danes are better than one: Mikkel Boedker

On the list of reasons to be interested in Boedker, the Danish heritage he shares with Nikolaj Ehlers is but an entertaining side note. Perhaps the most intriguing detail about him is that he's 26-years-old today. Age-wise, he is far from over the hill, and fits in alongside Tyler Myers on the younger end of a post-Ladd/Buff veteran core. At 433 NHL games and counting, calling him a veteran is far from outrageous (by comparison, Mathieu Perreault has 346).

Brendan Porter, the Tim AKA Managing Editor of Five for Howling and friend of the AIH 20416 podcast, had this to say:

This season, Boedker is making good on the "deadly effective" description, though a quick look at his game log does show some feast-or-famine to his goal scoring. He posted career highs in 2013-14, with 19 goals, 32 assists and 51 points, while his 28 point, 45 game campaign last season was cut short due to a spleen injury. 2015-16 is shaping up to be his best, with 22 points in 30 games putting him on pace for a 30 goal, 60 point season. He's fast, he's shifty, and he's got some moves:

Boedker also provides a nice bit of versatility, being able to play both wings effectively. Last season he spent most of his 5v5 time alongside Antoine Vermette and Shane Doan, while this year he's been playing on the right of Vermette, ceding the left to some kid named Max Domi. What he hasn't provided, at least during his tenure with the Coyotes, are favourable fancy stats relative to his teammates.

I'll be completely honest: my heart wants to see Boedker skating in the Jets top-six, while my head is far more wary. While his fancy stats are cause for some concern, I'm willing to believe they would improve both over time and within the Winnipeg system (it's early, but Drew Stafford may be an example of the latter). But if his season thus far continues, Boedker is peaking at just the right moment, and that coupled with his attractive age may push his price tag beyond what's desirable. I wouldn't become too enamored with his current pace of 30 goals, but pegging him as a regular 25-goal threat outside of Arizona seems believable. What's that in a 26-year-old body going to be worth on the 2016 open market?

With all of that said, "Fefe and the Danish Duo" does have a certain ring to it.

The Central Division Veteran: David Perron

If you thought of Mikkel Boedker as a questionable "buy high" option, David Perron may be more to your liking. He's hardly an unattractive package: a 27-year-old extremely skilled, creative winger who can both shoot and pass with aplomb, isn't afraid to hit, and has familiarity with the Central Division to boot.

While there are more recent goals worthy of including, this one is worth a trip in the time machine:

So, what's not to like? Well, his start to the season was cold as an icebox, and he's currently on pace for a grand total of 11 goals, 20 assists and 31 points. While he had a 57 point season in 2013-14, his production in 2014-15 wasn't much better than okay. Perron also has an injury stigma attached to him, even though he's been quite healthy from the beginning of 2012 onwards.

Upon reaching out to Laura Astorian, the Tim AKA site manager of St. Louis Game Time and friend of the AIH 20416 Podcast (I'm sensing a trend here), her only negative about Perron makes him absolutely perfect for the Winnipeg Jets:

David Perron's underwhelming 2015-16 point production and injury (see: concussion) history may conspire to make him an excellent buy low candidate, one with minimal leverage when it comes to term. But as a result, he and Winnipeg might provide each other the perfect win-win scenario.

Between Kyle Connor, Chase De Leo, Nic Petan and potentially others still, the organization down the road has several left wing candidates for the top-six. The important part to stress there is "down the road": while some may eventually be the answer, it's optimistic to think any of them can spell Andrew Ladd for 2016-17.

Enter David Perron, stopgap extraordinaire. Given (we anticipate) his depressed value, might the team be able to entice him with a two-year contract, perhaps one similar to the deal Drew Stafford signed? Perron would be 30 at said contract's end, an age which doesn't necessarily inhibit a UFA's asking price, as Winnipeggers can attest to. Chevy hit jackpot with one Quebecois LW free agent. It may be a strategy worth doubling down on.

The worst news when it comes to David Perron as an option may be that Pittsburgh fired Mike Johnston. Come on Mike Sullivan, don't fail me now. Or do, as it were.

The Hometown Boy: Darren Helm

Okay, he's from St. Andrews, Manitoba, but that's more than close enough. Now is Darren Helm a legitimate top-line player? Almost certainly not. But nor is he just the checking centre his skillset first seemed to indicate, and he's shown the ability to consistently compliment more offensively gifted forwards such as Tomas Tatar and Pavel Datsyuk. That ability is an underrated skill, at least in my opinion, as is another area Helm excels in: penalty differential.

Aside from possessing the versatility to go from centre to wing and back again, Helm is also one of those players who can move up and down the lineup and be an asset wherever he's slotted. This is good, because his point production can be rather underwhelming to say the least. His career highs in goals and total points came last season, at 15 and 33 respectively. Much as Jets fans occasionally moan about their captain's production, one has to go all the way back to 2007-08 to find a year where Ladd produced a lower regular season points total than Helm's best.

If Helm could be signed to middle-six money or better, he might be a decent temporary fix for the top-six. Andrew Cogliano comes to mind on the high end of what's imagined: a contract which wouldn't look out of place on the third line, when in a season or two, Helm's top-six spot might be taken by one of the kids. He doesn't deserve a sizeable sum, but one can envision a scenario where the 28-year-old makes sense.

The Unproductive Fancy Stat Darling: Michael Raffl

Raffl is going to be an absolutely fascinating test case if and when he hits free agency in 2016. There's a reason he plays with the best Philadelphia has to offer, often times in spite of underwhelming production: it's because he's a damn good complimentary player.

When looking for some Raffl tips and tricks, I touched base with our resident Philadelphia Flyers fan and hopefully soon-to-be friend of the AIH 20416 Podcast, the one and only @KitKat_P:

His HERO Chart paints a rather flattering portrait of the player, one which certainly wouldn't come across when looking at raw point totals. Raffl's career high came last season, with 28 points. This year, he's on pace for (brace yourselves) 8 goals, 8 assists and 16 points. Chris Thorburn is currently on track for 13 goals and 18 points.

To address one possible concern, Raffl's possession metrics don't look to be solely Giroux driven. While they always make sweet fancy stat music when on the ice together, Giroux suffered more last season when away from Raffl than the other way around. Again I wonder, how much will seemingly being the purest of complementary players be worth?

At the very least, we know he'd make keeping warm in Winnipeg look very cool indeed:

Bargain Hunters

While the non-Boedker players above might themselves be had at favourable deals, there may be even greater bargains come 2016. Some will seem outrageous as supposed Andrew Ladd replacements, but remember, this is an organization which plugged a 19-year-old rookie into the top-six. Anything is possible.

Jamie McGinn: When healthy, the 27-year-old flirts with being a regular 20-goal scorer, and this season he's on pace for 15 goals and 36 points. He's a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, a lunch-bucket winger who can light the lamp while being defensively responsible. The tricky part is, he's also the kind of player GMs might become mildly infatuated with come free agency. In terms of price tag, might he be the next Matt Beleskey (who, incidentally enough, is having a pretty decent season over in Boston)?

Kris Versteeg: He's more offensively inclined and creative than McGinn, but quite a bit smaller. Versteeg is quietly posting his best season since 2011-12, currently on pace for 46 points with the Carolina Hurricanes. In addition, you have to love the Chicago connection. He's someone Cheveldayoff would have familiarity with.

Tomas Fleischmann: The 31-year-old was one of 2015's offseason bargains, eventually signing with Montreal for a grand total of $750,000. While he's slowed down of late, in 32 games Fleischmann has thus far contributed 8 goals and 8 assists to the Canadiens' cause. While it seems unlikely he'll be left out in the cold a second time around, if he is, it might be a case of better late than never.

David Jones: Who wants a poor man's Drew Stafford? Yeah, me neither. He's perfect.

Are You Two Still Living?

Alex Tanguay: The 36-year-old is a bad possession player on the Colorado Avalanche, and that's saying something. While he scored 55 points last season, he's currently on pace for 27. If Old Man Tanguay is our 2016-17 answer to the loss of Andrew Ladd, it will either be the biggest stroke of genius in Kevin Cheveldayoff's career, or we're gunning for Nolan Patrick.

Tuomo Ruutu: You are relatively blameless if you'd forgotten about Ruutu's existence, as the New Jersey forward is currently out with a fractured foot. He also hasn't had a decent offensive season since 2011-12. It's hard to believe, but he's actually only 32-years-old, and his fancy stats aren't too shabby either. A reclamation project if ever there was, but he'd likely be had at a bargain basement price, the kind which makes for pleasant surprises.

The Expensive 'Just Re-Sign Andrew Ladd' Options

David Backes: Though he presents a positional versatility Ladd lacks, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Winnipeg sees their captain depart, only to then sign St. Louis'. They both play a hard, gritty, determined style, which is to say the long-term concerns levied against Ladd apply to Backes just the same. Considering he's also older and just as likely to come with a rather large price tag, the Jets may want to Backes away slowly.

Milan Lucic: The 27-year-old is a force to be reckoned with, and provides the kind of heavy, rough-and-tumble style our Jets have a reputation for. The trouble is that Lucic might command the most expensive contract of all players listed here, Andrew Ladd included. I imagine Boston Bruins Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli's salivating is becoming uncomfortable, Los Angeles is trying to (somewhat miraculously) re-sign him and the inevitability of Vancouver feels like an open secret. This is all before applying the same long-term durability concerns which come up with both Ladd and Backes, because Milan Lucic will be getting term as well as dollars.

Conclusion

None of the players above are Andrew Ladd. But most of them could be had at a lesser price, some significantly so. Here's a hypothetical: what will Andrew Ladd's role be when he's 35 and still $6.833 million against the cap? And is that contract the best use of these three limited resources: cap space, real dollars and an NHL roster spot?

If the plan is for internal options to seize prominent roles in the not-too-distant future, there are several pending UFA candidates who might adequately hold the fort until the kids are hopefully ready. A good number of them are notably younger than Ladd: Perron and Raffl are both 27, while Boedker is 26 today. The spectre of term looks significantly less frightening when the endpoint is early thirties, rather than mid. With the possible exception of Jaromir Jagr, age is not just a number.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for a look at the Winnipeg Jets' internal options for replacing Andrew Ladd.