Hockey fans watch the NHL's trade-deadline day keenly, but no one is on more tenterhooks than the players. When 'the call' comes, as it did last year when the Washington Capitals sent David Steckel to the New Jersey Devils for Jason Arnott, players' lives are turned upside down. James Mirtle, in Toronto with Steckel, now with the Maple Leafs, and Paul Waldie, in Winnipeg with Arnott, now with the St. Louis Blues, look at how a small trade has a huge ripple effect on teams and families.
Toronto Maple Leafs centre David Steckel, 29, talks about being dealt from Washington to New Jersey (for Jason Arnott) at last year’s trade deadline.
Machinations of the deal
“I didn't find out until about 3:30 and the trade deadline ended at 3 p.m., so obviously it was a last-minute deal. When I got the call from my agent [Ben Hankinson]I thought, ‘hey I didn't get traded.' He's like, ‘actually you did.'
“Then all of a sudden you're like, what's going to happen now?”
Getting ‘the call'
“I got a call from [Capitals GM]George McPhee. About 10 minutes later, I got a call from [Devils GM]Lou [Lamoriello]saying ‘welcome to the organization.' We just kind of got to know each other and five minutes later I was on another call [with the Devils]arranging how to get to New Jersey as fast as possible.”
Joining the new team
“My wife [Didi]happened to be on vacation [in the Cayman Islands]so I was trying to get a hold of her. For me, it was a little more challenging [on my own] just to pick up everything, pack for eight weeks in two suitcases, go to the rink and get my hockey stuff and all of a sudden I’m on a train to New Jersey [three hours after getting the first call] It was really hectic..
“In the meantime, you really don’t have much time to think because pretty much everybody in your entire phonebook is asking what happened ... I didn’t really have a chance the entire ride up there to think ‘what about New Jersey?’ Not until I laid in bed that night.”
“My wife was [six months]pregnant at that point. She’s such a great person in the fact that she basically took care of everything that we needed to do that, normally, [we would]as a couple as far as moving all our stuff. Trying to make arrangements. It’s a whirlwind to be stuck in.
“I just went and played hockey. That’s all you can do. For six to eight weeks, we lived in a hotel [in West Orange, N.J.]and we managed to get through it and it made us stronger. It’s not something I recommend doing on a yearly basis. But at the same time, you don’t really have a choice.
“You spend a little more time at the rink obviously, not wanting to go back and spend all day at the hotel.
“You make a lot of friends [in Washington]and some of the ties you have to just cut right away. It’s not by choice. It’s not hey we don’t want to talk to these people anymore. When you’re a hockey player, you know how it is.”
Friends on the team?
“I actually went to college with [former Devils centre]Rod Pelley. He happened to be there. The guys in Jersey were great. They had been traded before and everyone knows how it is. They were very accommodating, and the guys were awesome trying to make it an easy adjustment. The entire organization took care of us. It was a great experience.”
Advice to traded players ?
“My advice is just go in with open arms. As much as you either resent or you’re happy about the trade, you have to be a professional and go to another team. They traded for you because they wanted you. At that point, you can’t worry about anything else but playing hockey.
“If you look at it as a bad experience, I think it’d bite you in the ass. You just can’t throw up your arms and say ‘what am I supposed to do now?’ Your life still goes on. You’re still going to play games. So you have to refocus your attention and just go out there and play.”
~James Mirtle, Toronto
St. Louis Blues centre Jason Arnott, 37, talks about going from New Jersey to Washington (for David Steckel) at last year’s trade deadline. (Arnott was about to be an unrestricted free agent that summer).
Machinations of the deal
“Lou [Lamoriello]said I’d love for you to stay but it’s up to you. I said, ‘Lou I’m getting at the end of my career, I want to try and win again and make the playoffs. Just let me know what teams are interested and then we can go from there.’ He said Washington was involved. There was a bunch of other teams but Washington caught my eye the most and they were playing real well and they were a great team. I said, ‘If you can make it happen with Washington, great. If you can’t then I’ll stay. It came down to the wire. He actually called me and said, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to get done do you mind staying?’ I said, ‘Lou I don’t mind staying at all.’ He called me a few minutes after the deadline and said ‘We got a deal, you are going to Washington.’ It’s a less shock because you are already prepared.”
Getting ‘the call’
“It’s always the general manager. They’ll call you and say ‘Thanks for your service’ or ‘We’re going in a different direction’ or ‘We had to make this trade to improve our team’. They just try and say what you want to hear. You’re devastated. You don’t really say much. The first time [he was traded from New Jersey to Dallas in 2002]I didn’t say a whole lot to Lou. I was pissed. And then you get over it after a while.”
How the family coped
“[My wife, Dina, and two children]stayed in New Jersey. My [7-year-old]son was in school. It was only a quick train ride. We rented a house right near the train in New Jersey that went right into Washington. It was easy for them. I was only gone two months. They would come in on the weekends.
“That two months in Washington was long enough being away from them [the couple also have a 2-year-old daughter] It felt like a whole year. I couldn’t imagine being away for a year from my family.
“To get traded when you have a family, it’s a lot. Because you are leaving your family and your kids. Usually if they are old enough and they are in school you can’t really pull them out of school. So it’s tough that way.”
“[My wife is]getting to the point now where she’d like a final home where we are settled. It’s hard, but she’s used to it. That’s our lifestyle. She knows it’s not going to be forever. Eventually we’ll settle down and move somewhere.” (They plan to live in Dallas. The children are American. Dina and Arnott are Canadians. The couple plans to have the whole family dual citizens).
The new team
“Usually you know some guys a little bit from playing against each other. You have that mutual respect. They are usually happy that you are there, they are ecstatic they’ve traded for you. It just happens so fast you can’t really think about it.”
The 2002 trade
“I was single and you just basically go to the rink, grab your bag, say goodbye to the guys and you’re off to the next city.
“I owned a condominium [in New Jersey]so I had to sell it. And when you get into the next city they pay for your room and board for a certain number of days and then you’ve got to pay for your own. But if it’s a trade-deadline deal the team will usually pay for your room and board for rest of the year and the playoffs. If they are good about it they’ll take care of everything for you.
“It was weird going to Dallas because we’d played them in the playoffs, we’d beat them in the playoffs, so it was a little different. It was nerve-racking.”
The difference today?
“When I first started trades at the deadline weren’t that big a deal. The big teams would load up because they had the money for it. But now everybody is trading everybody. Even the big superstars now are getting traded for each other and the top guys and stuff. You just don’t know anymore. It’s crazy.”
~Paul Waldie, Winnipeg