EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- The week leading up to July 1 wasn't easy for left wing Andrew Ladd. He knew his time with the Chicago Blackhawks was up because of salary-cap constraints. His life, along with the lives of his wife and three children, was about to change drastically.
A trip to New York on the eve of free agency sealed it for Ladd. It was then when he met with New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow, assistant general manager/assistant coach and former teammate Doug Weight and coach Jack Capuano. Before the night was over, Ladd decided he would go to the Islanders. The next day he signed a seven-year contract reportedly worth $38.5 million (an average annual value of $5.5 million). He had found a home for himself and his family.
"That's the key," Ladd said after skating with his new teammates for the first time this week at camp. "The decision was obviously hockey-related, but there's a lot more that goes into it with the family. It was important just to see the area, see what it would be like for the kids and for my wife, and then obviously the hockey side with having a chance to play with [captain John Tavares] and just the group that we have. We really think we have a lot of good, young pieces and a great group that has a lot of chemistry, and can do some special things.
"It's a big decision. I think anytime you're making a decision that is affecting so many aspects of your life, there's a little bit of stress involved in that. But there's excitement too, having a lot of teams call and having interest. That's flattering as well. It was a unique process, but at the same time, I'm excited to be in one spot for a long time. I don't have to worry about that anymore."
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The trip to Long Island at the end of June eased any negative impressions Ladd may have had or heard about the area. The Islanders played their home games at Nassau Coliseum for 43 years before moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn prior to the start of last season. A quick drive to a few neighborhoods surrounding Northwell Health Ice Center, home of the Islanders' new state-of-the-art practice facility, made the decision easier.
"When we came here (as visiting players), you see the Marriott, you see the Coliseum, and then you're out," Ladd said. "You don't really get a big picture of what Long Island's all about, the different towns that are here and the lifestyle that I live. When we visited, it was pretty easy to see that it's a great spot to be. We're excited to be here, and we're excited to get involved in the community and get our kids immersed in everything that's going on here too.
"As far as the organization, I honestly didn't know a whole lot about it. I guess I leaned a lot on Dougie and the conversations with Garth to put that into perspective, and understand what their thoughts were and their philosophy and where they think this thing's going."
Ladd won the Stanley Cup with Weight in 2006 when they played for the Carolina Hurricanes. He was 20 years old at the time and leaned on the more-experienced Weight to get through the rigors of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ten years later, Weight helped convince him to sign with the Islanders, who last season won a playoff round for the first time since 1993. New York defeated the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference First Round in six games, then lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning the following round in five.
"I think he saw our organization for what it is," Weight said. "I hope the fact that he trusts me is part of it, but he met everybody. We went out of our way for him and his family and we wanted to tell him what it was all about. He loved the Island, he loved our team makeup and what we're all about. I think he sees us being a contender for as many years as he signed."
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Ladd, who also won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, is a five-time 20-goal scorer and had an NHL career-high 62 points with the Winnipeg Jets in 2014-15. Penciled in to skate on Tavares' left side this season, is he poised to set a new career-high?
"Who knows," Ladd said. "For my part, I just keep playing my game. I think when you start to try to do too much, that's when you get into trouble and things don't happen. With a player like him, I think you keep making it simple and do the things I do really well, and he can do what he does too."
Ladd will surely be relied upon to contribute offensively, but his leadership skills and winning pedigree are what attracted the Islanders more than anything else. They will be needed after the Islanders lost three key forwards (Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin) to free agency in the offseason.
"I think just being a part of that and understanding the highs and lows that go into a season and a playoff series and all those things," Ladd said. "You have to find a way to just stick together through the tough times and once you've been through those tough times, I feel like it's a lot easier when you get back to those to fight your way through them.
"They've had some success here in the past. Obviously, they've probably learned a lot of things just from their series last year and winning that series, and then playing a tough team in Tampa. You use every experience as a learning experience and then try to build off those things."