If I told you that you would get a chance to win a Stanley Cup, but have to move and leave your family behind in another country, that you may not see them for three or four months, and it will put a serious strain on your relationship, would you do it?
I’ve been traded more than once at the NHL trade deadline.
The first time was with the New York Rangers in April of 1995 when I was moved to Vancouver for Nathan LaFayette. That trade may go down as the most even trade in NHL history, as we both ended up NHL plumbers and back in the minors after a few seasons. I’m not sure, but we may have even played close to the same amount of games.
The second trade was from Nashville to Anaheim in 2000 for future considerations. Getting traded for “Freddy Charles” was the term we players used call it, to humanize that type of trade. In all actuality, I got traded to Anaheim for one dollar. That’s right, you heard me correctly: a dollar. I’m not ashamed however, because at least it was American currency.
Anaheim traded for me so they would have a third-string goalie in case someone got hurt, but Anaheim lost out in the playoffs before my AHL team did, so I never got to suit up for them, and in the summer I was released. Apparently, the transaction had to be carried out for something, and I hear to this day that David McNab of Anaheim never did give the dollar to David Poile of Nashville.
My then-wife was pregnant at that time, in her last trimester, when we went from Milwaukee to Salt Lake City in 2000. Thank God for family teammates Jeff and Michelle Sharples, they were two saints for helping us find doctors and get situated. The minor league trades were always the toughest, as you’re treated more like cattle than humans.
Another time, while in Portland, Maine, I had two little ones — a one- and a three-year-old — when I was traded to the Philadelphia Phantoms. I had no choice but to pack up and get to Philadelphia as quickly as I could. They played that night and didn’t have a goalie, so I packed up the car and drove eight hours to play in Philadelphia that same night.
However, back in Portland, my then-wife had to pick up the pieces, organize the move, and care for our two small children. Not a small task.
So what does a player go through in the days leading up to a trade? Players typically have a good idea that it’s going to happen. Coaches and management are absolutely the worst at keeping a poker face. One day they’re your best friend — chatting you up, asking how you are — then, as if for no reason, silence. And they do their best to avoid contact with you. If they do talk with you, it’s kept to a minimum, and you can feel the atmosphere around you change. “Dead man walking” is what we used to call each other.
The day of the deadline itself, all players watch the clock up until that very last minute. If someone tells you they don’t, you have my permission to call them a liar.
Then, at the last minute, just when you think you’re safe, the phone rings. The GM or assistant GM are on the line, and before they can even speak, you ask them, “Where am I going?”
They give you a number of a contact in your new city, wish you good luck, and sometimes within hours you’re on a plane to your new destination.
When you arrive, your new teammates will greet you with handshakes and hugs. Some you know, most you don’t, and some remind you of the time you speared them in the family planners and let you know they haven’t forgotten.
With every trade, there are two different scenarios for the team and player. The first being that if you are single with only Rex, your bulldog, that’s easy. Pack up your bags, grab ol’ Rex, and head out in the truck to your next destination.
The second scenario is when you have a family, when other hearts are involved. It can get complicated, as your wife or significant other most likely has established deep roots in the community. Your kids may have to go to a different school and make new friends and that can be heart-breaking.
As a player, you have to get to your new team right away. Who takes care of the move and selling the house? Who takes care of the kids, the bills, and then finding a new house with good schools in a city you’ve never lived in? Most importantly, how do you say goodbye? Mostly, those challenges will be left up to your partner, and they may even balk at leaving.
What if your partner is pregnant? That means new doctors, new hospitals and relying on strangers you’ve never met for help and advice. It’s a ton of stress on the family unit. The divorce rate for a professional athlete post-career isn’t good, and the stories of why are mostly the same.
Personally, trades and situations such as the ones I’ve described above were probably a factor in my marriage breaking down after retirement. My now ex-wife and I both spent a lot of energy chasing the dream.
So even with all the logistics and complications a player or family goes through with a trade, let’s not lose sight of the reason we do this.
As Antoine Vermette found out last season, a trade may end up being the best thing that happens to your family. It may be your family’s best chance to win what we all chase: the Stanley Cup.