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Andrew Ladd marvels at how Hawks have grown since he left

Andrew Ladd (16) and his teammates listen to the national anthem before the Feb. 28 game against Washington. (AP Photo)

The last time Andrew Ladd wore a Blackhawks sweater, he was surrounded by a bunch of brash kids full of talent and full of themselves — a group that Patrick Kane famously described as “too young and dumb” to know any better.

“Well, he was young and dumb at the time,” Ladd said. “But the rest of us weren’t.”

Ladd’s been in Chicago for less than two weeks, and he’s already chirping the team’s biggest star. It’s been that easy a transition for the Hawks’ prized trade-deadline acquisition, who has slid right back into old friendships and old habits. Nearly six years after he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, it’s as if he never left.

He’s quickly found chemistry with Jonathan Toews on the Hawks’ top line, with a goal and two assists in his first four games, and has made an immediate impact on the already-dangerous Hawks power play. But it’s not exactly like old times for Ladd. While he has talked about his own development as a player as a top-liner and a captain for the Winnipeg Jets, the Hawks have changed, too. Those brash young kids are now cagey, battle-tested veterans. Joel Quenneville has fine-tuned his system and his coaching style. Then there’s last summer’s dressing-room renovation.

But most of all, the attitude in that room has changed. That 2010 team lived and died with every victory, the emotional roller-coaster of the regular season taking a mental toll. The Hawks now are older, wiser, and far more level-headed. Winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons has a way of giving a player some perspective on what truly matters.

“That’s probably the biggest thing, is they’re not focused on the ups and downs of needing to win every game in the season,” Ladd said. “They have confidence that if they have an outing where they’re not at their best, they’ll get back there the next game and keep rolling. The most important time of year is when the playoff start.”

Ladd watched the Hawks’ success from afar with a mix of joy and jealousy. He lives near Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in the summer, and while Ladd’s season usually ended in mid-April, Keith and Seabrook wouldn’t make it home until almost July. Ladd even attended Seabrook’s Stanley Cup party last summer. Like so many other Hawks who were jettisoned following that remarkable 2010 Cup run, Ladd still wonders what could have happened had that team not been decimated by the salary cap.

“There are always what-ifs, for sure,” Ladd said. “But it really didn’t bother me [to see them win]. Maybe just because I’m close friends with them and I’m happy for them. And maybe because I’ve done it twice myself.”

Then he paused, then he smiled.

“Maybe when they got the third Cup, I was a little more [ticked] off,” he joked. “I think there’s always thoughts what would have happened if they were able to keep that group together. But I don’t live life that way. You’ve got to move on, and I think I’m a much more well-rounded person and player now that I’m back.”

His teammates are, too — more confident on the ice, healthier at the training table, more grown-up at home, and more charitable in the community. Ladd marveled at how connected the city has become with the Hawks, noting that he’s already been recognized on the street more in the last two weeks than he was during his entire two-year stint in Chicago.

Ladd first arrived just as the Hawks started to rise from the ashes of a lost decade. He left right after they finally ended 49 years of futility. Six years later, he’s back, even if it’s just for a few months. And somehow, everything’s the same, and everything’s different.

“It’s fun to see how everything has changed, and how everybody’s grown and matured,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus