For a few hours Wednesday evening, New York Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in Canada, after news leaked that he had asked the Islanders to trade him to a team in Western Canada for personal reasons.
This is the power of an NHL trade rumour in a gridlocked league – that when a quality in-his-prime defenceman becomes available, social-media mayhem ensues, even if casual fans might reasonably ask: Travis Who?
In the fine print of the story, there was also this small sobering revelation: That Hamonic had made the trade request before the start of the season; and for three months, the Islanders had quietly been trying to accommodate his wishes without success.
Sadly, this is what happens when real life collides with the business of hockey: Even if the Islanders wanted to do the right thing by Hamonic, because he is a popular and well-liked member of their team, they can't afford to make a trade just to make a trade. They need value back.
So forget about all those in-your-dreams scenarios that made quickly made the rounds, in which potential unrestricted defencemen on the Winnipeg Jets, the Edmonton Oilers or the Calgary Flames were eagerly linked to the Islanders in a possible deal for Hamonic.
The NHL trading game doesn't work that way. No one gives up a good player on an attractive contract (seven years, $27-million) for an unsigned player that will strike it rich in free agency, either with his current club or on the open market next July.
Moreover, if, in three months of talking back and forth with potential trading partners, the Islanders were unable to find a suitable deal, how does it get any easier, now that Hamonic's wishes spilled into the public domain?
The answer is: It doesn't. It gets more challenging.
Hamonic, for those who don't know much about him, is one of those quietly coveted NHL players that teams believe can help them win championships. He leads the Islanders in minutes played, which is a sure sign of how much trust coach Jack Capuano puts in him.
He gained some measure of notoriety last season when, in an ESPN documentary, he revealed details of his personal history: How he was from a farming family in St. Malo, Man., and lost his father, Gerald, to a heart attack when Travis was just 10. Now Hamonic tries to counsel other children who've endured similar losses by inviting them to be his guest at Islanders' games and lend an ear as needed.
In short, Hamonic seems like a genuinely nice young man. When the matter of his trade demand was broached publicly for the first time Thursday, his teammates flew to his defence. As reported by NHL.com, John Tavares, the Islanders' captain, said: "It's a family in here ... He's like a brother to many of us. I've been with him here a long time, and he's a great guy. We're there to support him, we're there for him and to make sure we let him know that."
Hamonic didn't want to get into any specific details about why he wants out, saying only: "The root of all this is a personal family matter of mine that I hold dear to my heart."
Geographically, the Jets may be the best fit, but they already have two young, established NHL defencemen on the roster in Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers, as part of a comparatively deep blue line overall. Hamonic's salary would be appealing to Winnipeg, a budget team, but the acquisition cost is probably too high.
Edmonton is the team most likely in need of a 25-year-old defenceman, because their two best defensive prospects – Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom – are still years away from hitting their NHL peaks. The Islanders previously traded Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers last summer, so there is a precedent for the GMs – Garth Snow in Long Island, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton – to make a deal.
But this one is far more complicated, and the sorts of players that the Oilers might consider parting with – the likes of Justin Schultz and/or Nail Yakupov – wouldn't necessarily appeal to the Islanders for a player of Hamonic's stature.
Hamonic says he understands that "Garth [Snow] has a job to do ... and he's going to do what he feels is best for the organization.
He went on to say: "I'm ready to play here and battle hard and go to war every night. It hasn't been an issue for me so far this season … One thing I can guarantee and promise is it's not going change how I play on the ice."
The Islanders are a young team on the rise, with a 10-6-3 record, good for third place in the Metropolitan division. They are playing in a new building in Brooklyn this season, and just emerging out of a long doldrums, to the point where organizationally, there is some genuine excitement about their upside. If the playoffs started today, they would be in again.
There may even be a happy ending to this story in time. No matter how sentimental you may want to get, the complicated ways of the NHL trading game suggest it isn't going to happen overnight.