It was a surreal atmosphere at the Pengrowth Saddledome Monday morning, with four new faces dropping into join the Calgary Flames, two current players in limbo and the overall sense of everyone waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The impetus came from a TSN report Sunday night that suggested Flames' general manager Darryl Sutter was not done with his wheeling-and-dealing; and that in the aftermath of a seven-player blockbuster deal with Toronto, he had something else on the go with the New York Rangers that would bring Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins to the Stampede City. In exchange, the Flames were to surrender Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust in the deal.
As of noon today, Jokinen and Prust were still on the team and were on the ice earlier in the morning, preparing to play in Monday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Still, the tension in the air was palpable whenever you turned. Neither Jokinen nor Prust spoke in the dressing room following the morning skate; and when Jokinen came off the ice, he looked decidedly unhappy.
General manager Darryl Sutter wasn't around either, and his brother, Flames' coach Brent Sutter, dismissed a question about the speculation surrounding Jokinen and Prust by saying: "I'm not talking about it at all. We're focused on the game tonight; and the guys in the dressing room. That's our team."
Fair enough. It was left to Jarome Iginla to address the matter as the team captain. Iginla skated this morning with newly acquired Matt Stajan at centre and Dustin Boyd on the wing on what is for now the team's new No. 1 line. Iginla had heard the rumours about Jokinen's possible departure too.
"I have no idea if it almost happened, why it didn't happen, what was the case, or if it was just a rumour," said Iginla. "I don't know, but we as players have to deal with that. You don't like to see your teammates in that situation because we're together every day and we play alongside each other and compete together - but we don't have any control over that.
"We look at it, that this is our group, and until we're told otherwise, our job is to prepare for the game."
Iginla paused for a deep breath before continuing.
"It's easier said than done. It's tough, but it's part of the job. At the trade deadline every year, you hear things that came close and weren't done - or that were ideas that people run with. Honestly, I don't know. It's part of the game; it's a hard part of the game; but it will probably always be there."
Iginla said he couldn't get a real sense of what sort of chemistry he and Stajan might develop on the basis of one short practice, but noted that the ex-Leaf centre is having a good year and seemed to be improving every season.
For his part, Stajan noted that he'd played much of the year with another natural sniper, Phil Kessel, on the Leafs - although it must be said that Kessel and Iginla are far different players, once you go beyond their shooting abilities. Kessel is faster; Iginla clears more space with his physical attributes.
"It's too soon to tell," said Stajan. "You'll have to ask me after we play a game together. I've obviously watched Jarome a lot. He's one of the best players in the world. I'm just gonna get my feet wet tonight and hopefully get off to a good start."
For tonight's game, Jokinen was tentatively set to play with fellow Finn Niklas Hagman and Jamie Lundmark on a line. Jamal Mayers was practising on the fourth line with Prust and Eric Nystrom; the other unit featured a trio of holdovers - Daymond Langkow between Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross. Currently, Calgary has three forwards sidelined with injuries: Nigel Dawes, David Moss and Craig Conroy.