When the 2017-18 season wrapped up, Arizona Coyotes forward Andrew Ladd had skated in 920 NHL games, not knowing at the time it would take four more seasons to reach the 1,000-game summit.
There were many points over that span, in fact, he wasn’t sure if he’d make it back at all.
Last week, he overcame those odds to achieve that 1,000-game milestone, and just one week later he earned the nomination from the Arizona chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player the “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.”
PHWA members will vote on the finalists and the winner will be announced, along with the other NHL awards, between Games 3 and 4 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. Other notable nominees this season include Jack Eichel, Carey Price, and Ryan Getzlaf.
Ladd’s NHL Future was Uncertain Following 2018-19 Season
Ladd’s inspiring road to 1000 games was a long and bumpy one, but in the end, he credited his strong support system of family, friends, and teammates for helping him get back to being a regular in the NHL. The two-time Stanley Cup winner, who was captain of both the Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets (after relocation from Atlanta), signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract with the New York Islanders, and played 151 games for them over the first two years of the deal.
Things started to unravel in the 2018-19 season, though, and injuries took their toll on the winger. He played just 26 games in 2018-19 and four in 2019-20, spending 34 games with the Islanders’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Just one season later, he was out of the league entirely, and the Islanders dumped his contract to the Coyotes, along with a few draft picks to sweeten the deal.
The 36-year-old earned a spot on the rebuilding Coyotes this season, and has been instrumental in helping young players acclimate to life in the league. Arizona has had 11 players make their NHL debut this season, and the veteran forward has used made the most of his opportunities, especially considering his long road to recovery.
“There are days where some doubts start to creep in, I think that’s only natural,” Ladd said. “Like anybody else, there’s good days, there’s bad days, and that’s why, you know, you lean on people around you to kind of help you through those days and help reset you.”
Ladd leaned on his family — especially his wife — as well as friends, teammates, and even a mental skills coach to help continue his recovery. Though he did miss parts of this season with injury, he has played 51 games which is more than most ever thought he’d skate considering the injury-riddled seasons in the not-so-distant past.
“My wife kicked me in the butt a few times, and got me going, along with a few other people,” he said. “Yeah, lots of different motivating factors, but you use kind of what you have in front of you on a daily basis. I think I accrued a lot of new tools and techniques working through it that I’ll be able to lean on down the road.”
The Ladd Foundation Helps Pay it Forward
One of Ladd’s motivating factors is his charity, The Ladd Foundation, which its Web site states has a mission to “give youth access to resources which support their health and wellbeing.” There’s not just one primary focus, but the foundation addresses multiple issues, including mental health and well being, as well as meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities.
The focus on the foundation’s 1616 program is another thing that aided in his recovery, because though he wasn’t taking the ice as an NHL regular, he was still able to use his public platform to promote good. The public service was more than just giving back to the community, though.
It was good for the soul.
“There was a lot of time in the day, beyond training and trying to stay ready,” Ladd said. “I think I was challenged at that point by my mental skills coach of ‘Hey, what do you want to do with this time, and how do you want to make it count?’ It’s something my wife and I have wanted to do for a long time.
“It really just gives me a sense of purpose, and her a sense of purpose of how we pay it forward.”
Ladd went on to say both he and his wife Brandy are about to roll out a program across North America, and knowing the impact that they have on kids playing hockey, they carry an immense amount of pride along with it. His commitment to community is also something he hopes his own children take note of.
There’s rarely a missed opportunity. Despite having just celebrated his 1,000th NHL game, the foundation has already rolled out “1,000 games for 1,000 teams,” in which the foundation is raising money for 1,000 youth hockey programs. At the time of this writing, it has raised $7,839 of a $250,000 goal.
Ladd Has Made His Mark, Awaits Next Chapter
There isn’t anything left for Ladd to prove to anyone, especially considering his most recent journey back to the NHL, but Arizona’s alternate captain still has one year left on his contract, and if his mind and body are able, he’d be an asset on the rebuilding Coyotes.
His value goes beyond the scoresheet, and that’s already evident with Arizona’s newest arrivals. Nathan Smith, who has already scored twice in just seven career games, arrived in The Valley following a Frozen Four appearance with Minnesota State, and the first line he practiced with included Ladd. Smith said at the time he was trying to soak in all of the veteran’s knowledge, and early results indicate it’s truly beneficial.
That said, Ladd’s aging, rebuilt body has a limit, and he’ll use the conclusion of this season to evaluate exactly where things stand.
“At this age, your decisions impact a lot of people beyond just myself,” he said. “My wife, my kids have been following me around for quite a while now. I think I’ll sit down at the end of the year and take some time to think about what’s going on, see how my body’s feeling, and go from there.”
Even so, as the sun sets on the 2021-22 season, Ladd can reflect on the year — and a storied career overall — and hold his head high as Arizona’s Masterton Trophy nominee.
“I know a lot of people that have been nominated for the award, and they’ve gone through a lot more obscure things than I have, so I think to me, it’s appreciation not only for perseverance and dedication, but it’s how I think everyone values the game,” he said. “That’s why we keep going, that’s why we persevere, and that’s why we push forward.”
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.