By Jay Zawaski--
(CBS) It's been another underwhelming season for the Winnipeg Jets, a team many thought would compete for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs but instead will once again see themselves booking early tee times this summer.
Two of their star players, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents when this season ends. On Monday, the Jets announced they had reached a five-year, $38-million deal with Byfuglien. That likely means Ladd is headed elsewhere by the NHL's trade deadline on Feb. 29.
I believe that "elsewhere" should be Chicago and to the Blackhawks.
It's no secret that the Blackhawks are looking to upgrade their first-line left wing spot. The recent acquisitions of Richard Panik and Jiri Sekac have shown that Chicago general manager Stan Bowman is hell bent on finding something that might work.
While Panik's been decent and the jury's still out on Sekac, it's safe to say that neither player solves what the Hawks need on the top line.
Andrew Shaw has filled in admirably but certainly isn't a full-time, top-line left winger.
Enter Ladd, who has 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 52 games this season.
Having played two-plus seasons and won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, the 30-year-old Ladd could be an ideal fit. His two-way play and familiarity with coach Joel Quenneville's system makes him an easy plug-and-play option for the Hawks, should they find the cap space to acquire him.
Ladd carries a $4.4-million cap hit, which seems like an impossible contract to acquire, but it's really not. As of today, the Blackhawks have roughly $865,000 in cap space. On trade deadline day, Ladd will cost $956,000 in cap space. That means the Hawks only need to move about $100,000 of additional space to fit Ladd under the cap.
Naturally, the acquisition of a player means the demotion of another, so the Hawks would easily send a player like Dennis Rasmussen or Brandon Mashinter to Rockford to become cap compliant.
Would the Jets want to strengthen a division rival? The answer would usually be no, but the Hawks would then lose Ladd this summer anyway, like they did with Antoine Vermette last summer. This would be a straight rental, so it's up to the Hawks to present the best deal to the Jets.
I know what you're asking: What would it take to get Ladd?
Last year, the Hawks acquired Vermette -- who was one of the top offensive players available at the deadline -- for defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick. I believe Ladd has similar value to Vermette. Would the Jets take a package of a first-round pick and one or two of Ryan Hartman, Mark McNeill, Ville Pokka or Viktor Svedberg? That's a steep price to pay, but wouldn't a fourth Stanley Cup in seven years would be worth it?
I think so. It's almost too perfect, isn't it?
*Thanks to the fine folks a CapFriendly.com for the salary information*
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast with James Neveau of NBCChicago.com that you can listen and subscribe to here. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.
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