PITTSBURGH – There is cruel and then there is this.
You battle through a 13-year pro career and all of the highs and lows that come with it and finally reach the Stanley Cup final. You get handed all of the nice new swag dispersed among the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks, and are tossed into the middle of the media day frenzy on the Consol Energy Center concourse.
And when your big moment arrives, as Trevor Daley’s did Sunday afternoon, you show up using crutches and wearing a walking boot.
“You know what, obviously I do – I do feel sorry for myself,” said Daley. “I try to control what I can control. I can’t control this situation so I’m going to have to make the best out of it.”
The Penguins have already announced that he’s done for the playoffs with a broken left ankle. Daley got his skate stuck in a rut and fell awkwardly while getting hit by Ryan Callahan in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final on May 20.
However, he’s still trying to keep the faintest light of hope alive, especially given that a Stanley Cup final that begins Monday might stretch all the way until June 15.
Asked if he’s 100 per cent done for the season, Daley smiled and responded: “I don’t know.”
“Possibly, (but) I’m not going to rule myself out though,” he said. “Maybe they will. … I think they said anywhere from four to eight weeks. I’m going to give myself a chance: Why not, right?”
The Penguins were able to weather his absence against Tampa because 21-year-old Olli Maatta played so well after re-entering the lineup following a string of scratches. But it still looms large against a Sharks team that has scored more goals than any other during these playoffs.
On a personal level, this has been a roller-coaster season for Daley.
Traded to Chicago last summer after spending more than a decade in the Dallas Stars organization, he never quite found a fit with the Blackhawks and coach Joel Quenneville. Then he was flipped to Pittsburgh on Dec. 14 – two days after Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach – and helped drive the Penguins second-half turnaround.
For evidence of how valued Daley is among these Penguins, you need only look to captain Sidney Crosby placing him alongside owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, and longtime teammate Pascal Dupuis (who was forced into retirement in December because of blood clots) as their primary sources of motivation entering this series.
“Trevor Daley, you look at someone who has played a long time and would love to be out there with us,” Crosby said Sunday. “There’s a ton of motivating factors when you get to this point.”
Daley has been around so long that he actually played games before the entire 2005 NHL season was wiped out by a lockout. He reached the Western Conference final in 2008 with the Stars, but also endured five consecutive seasons out of the playoffs after that.
To get this far and have to watch from the sidelines is pretty painful. You could see the emotion in his eyes as he recounted what the last week has been like.
“The situation sucks,” said Daley. “We’re at this point and I’ve never been here before. … It’s out of my hands. I’m just going to be as positive as can be about it for recovery time and getting back as soon as I can.
“And you know, try to be as big as a cheerleader as I can for the boys.”
He watched Thursday’s Game 7 victory over the Lightning from the trainer’s room, and struggled to sit through a tight third period before Pittsburgh eventually prevailed 2-1. Naturally, he took part in the celebration afterwards.
“Off the ice he’s one of the biggest leaders we got,” said Maatta. “For us young D-men he’s been awesome the whole year, and still is when he’s around the locker-room.”
“On a personal level, I feel badly for Trevor because I know how important this is to him and what it means to him,” added Sullivan. “You know, it’s emotional for him. He’s a terrific kid. He’s brought a lot to this hockey team.”
Injured players are often reluctant to spend too much time in the dressing room, especially during game days.
But after waiting so long to be part of something like this, Daley is planning to take a different approach during the final against the Sharks.
“They ain’t going to keep me away,” he said. “I’m going to be around for this. If they tell me I’ve got to stay away, I’m going to find a way to get in there.”
And if he has his way, that could mean a miraculous return to the Penguins lineup on the sport’s grandest stage – even if he’s the only one who seems to believe it’s possible.