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Less than a week to go. We’ve counted down to the March 3 NHL trade deadline in the past two months atDaily face-to-facewith at least one trade-focused story each day before the deadline day.
Today, former NHL goaltender Mike McKenna puts you in the shoes of a player. What’s it like to be an NHL player on trade deadline day?
Countdown 2023 Trade Deadline: 5 days
For a professional hockey player, being traded – whether you know it or not – is a punch. Your world stops spinning. Time slows down. You immediately feel detached and lost.
Some players overcome these feelings faster than others. If you walk into a good situation – a desirable location or a winning team – life clears up pretty quickly. But it can also go the other way. I’ve seen players become absolutely miserable in their new surroundings.
As hockey players, we are human. We are not immune to emotions. But I think we have become conditioned to change. And in the long run, it helps us adapt to almost any situation.
Twice in my 14 year career I was traded. But what’s pretty crazy is that I went 11 seasons without that happening. I got so far in my career without being treated that I was almost convinced it wasn’t going to happen.
For me, it was like a feather in my cap. That I was valuable enough that my team wanted to keep me. But it could also have been taken in a different sense: that I wasn’t good enough for a team to need me in the playoffs.
That all changed on March 1, 2017, in my 12th year as a professional, when the Florida Panthers traded me to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for fellow countryman Adam Wilcox.
It was a one-for-one deal involving minor leaguers, but it had big implications. I knew Tampa Bay wanted me for their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch — a team I’d had great success against before.
The Lightning, led by general manager Steve Yzerman and his assistant, Julien BriseBois, have always focused on winning at the AHL level. And the Crunch was gearing up for a run at the Calder Cup.
I wasn’t surprised Syracuse added a goaltender. But Me? It was a shock.
We didn’t have a great season with the Springfield Thunderbirds – Florida’s AHL affiliate at the time. And I shared the fold with Reto Berra. He had a one-sided deal. I did not do it. So the game was already stacked against me, and to make matters worse, my year started slowly.
I couldn’t buy wins. But I never felt left out from a technical point of view. And as the year passed, my luck started to turn. The wins started to come, followed by a shutout. My numbers have improved.
Despite my renewed success in the crease, I didn’t think there was a chance I would be traded. All season the Panthers had told my agent they were trying to move Berra. If anything, I figured he would be the one leaving.
No. In my 12th professional year, with a .907 save percentage and a measly 9-10-7 AHL record, I was sent from a Springfield team that was outside the Calder Cup playoffs. to a Syracuse team that was in contention.
It turned out to be a great trade. I started all 22 games during the playoffs for Syracuse. And despite losing to the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals, the run reinvigorated my career.
The end result was better than I could have imagined. And I’m forever grateful to the Lightning organization for believing in me. But the best part of the story isn’t what happened on the ice. This is how the actual trade went down.
Flashback to February 28, 2017, the day before the deadline. I had just installed a homemade baby gate in front of the stairs at the place we were renting in Enfield, Connecticut. And I was really proud of this thing. I used a bunch of broken hockey sticks and hardware that I found around the rink.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the baby gate once the year was over. But that didn’t matter at the time. I just needed to stop my youngest daughter from climbing the stairs. And the store bought doors were the wrong size. It was a fun project in season.
We had a road game the next day against the Hartford Wolfpack. And like I said before, I was sure I wouldn’t be traded. So I went to bed feeling comfortable.
The next day I went to our morning skate as usual. No worries on my side. But have you ever walked into a room and immediately felt a strange vibe? This is what trade deadline day looks like in a professional locker room. Things can get weird. And quick.
I can’t remember if I should start or back that night. But I remember passing the training and being relieved that nothing seismic happened regarding our team. We may not have earned much, but we were having fun. I don’t think anyone wanted to ruin chemistry.
So I got home just before the 3:00 p.m. ET trade deadline and started cooking my pre-game meal like any other game day. The time was up. Time had passed. The trade deadline was over.
Or so I thought.
Just as I was bombarding a plate of leftovers – my usual pre-game meal – my phone rang. It was almost 4:00 p.m. ET — almost an hour past the trade deadline. And on the other end of the line was our Thunderbirds general manager, Eric Joyce.
At that exact moment, I felt like every drop of blood had drained from my body. I took a deep breath and answered the phone, knowing full well what was to come.
Joyce confirmed my suspicions: the teflon had worn out. I had been traded for the first time. It fell apart at the last minute and took a while to go through the NHL system – something I hadn’t considered before. I was certain that if I had been traded, someone would have notified me before the deadline.
It was the biggest shock of my career. I wasn’t prepared – no one ever really is. But what came next was a lot to process. I had to go back to the rink and pack my gear, then say goodbye to coaches and teammates.
But the hardest part was trying to formulate a plan for my family. Our two children were under five and fortunately not yet in school. But the logistics were almost overwhelming. I was needed in Syracuse that night – with a game the next day.
Somehow we got it all sorted out. It took a few trips back to Connecticut to get all of our belongings back, and my wife had to do most of the packing. Which brought an extra layer of guilt on my part.
But what I remember most about the following days is just how lost I felt. I had walked into countless locker rooms before when I was called up from the minors to the NHL. And it seemed quite strange, despite staying within an organization.
Switching teams in the AHL mid-season was really weird. New coaches. New systems. New teammates. New equipment. New housing. All.
It took me nearly a month before I finally felt comfortable in my new surroundings. I quickly knew who I could rely on. And the Crunch went out of their way to have my family home once they arrived in Syracuse a few weeks after the business closed.
There were times when I shook my head, wondering what I had gotten myself into all those years ago when I chose to pursue professional hockey. People in other fields are not swapped in the middle of the day from one office to another hundreds of miles away.
But you know what? I wouldn’t change that for the world. Hockey was my chosen path, but like my 2016-17 season, sometimes the path chooses you.
So, as the March 3 NHL trade deadline approaches, keep in mind how stressful it is for players. I know they don’t get much sympathy just because of their income. But from my own experience, I can guarantee you that money does not fix emotions.
The moral of the story is: when the boss calls, be ready. Because anything can happen.
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