Morgan Rielly says the trade offers usually start flying as soon as the Maple Leafs board their bus or plane.
The proposals, however, have nothing to do with hockey.
Instead, the Toronto defenceman and his teammates will throw out potential swaps in their fantasy football league to see if there are any takers.
"It’s almost automatic to talk trade to the guy in the seat in front of you," said Rielly, whose eyes lit up when a recent conversation turned to fantasy sports. "Then they’ll turn around and be like, ‘Are you joking?’ There’s a lot of banter."
For the uninitiated, fantasy sports involves competitors drafting players from professional leagues — in this case, the NFL — to go up against friends, co-workers or even strangers.
And in the case of many NHLers, their teammates.
Leagues usually range anywhere from eight to 12 teams, with everyone paying an entry fee and the winner taking the majority of the pot at season’s end.
"It’s cool to make trades and try to fleece guys a little bit," said Rielly, the Leafs’ most recent fantasy football champion. "It definitely gets competitive. In a weird way, it brings guys together."
Fantasy football is big across NHL locker rooms as players jockey for year-end bragging rights. It’s also a way to bond and unplug from the pressures of their day jobs.
"A lot of fun," Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot said. "We’re always so focused on hockey that when the football games are on, it’s nice to sit all together and watch a couple of games and chirp each other."
Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba described his team’s fantasy league as "crazy" during the early months of the NHL schedule.
"That’s all we talk about," he said. "Last year I remember guys taking each other out for dinner and trying to work trades. It’s hilarious. Then football season is over and there’s this week of, like, sombreness.
"Nobody knows how to talk to each other if it’s not about football. It’s a transition period."
Calgary forward Sam Bennett said the Flames had issues with trade offers involving bribes similar to the ones Dumba mentioned, but put a stop to the practice.
"You’re not allowed to trade money or dinner," said Bennett, who was victorious two years ago. "There’s lot of chirping about the teams and the picks."
"It gets really intense," Chabot added. "It gets a little greasy with trades at the end of the (fantasy) year when you’re not going to make playoffs."
The Vancouver Canucks’ success on the ice this season hasn’t translated to captain Bo Horvat’s fantasy roster.
"It’s my first year," he said. "You can tell, because I suck. My team’s the worst."
While fantasy sports get NHLers’ competitive juices flowing, it can also help with the integration of new players.
The Leafs underwent a roster overhaul this summer that included the addition of forwards Alexander Kerfoot and Nick Shore, as well as defencemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci.
All four are now members of the team’s fantasy football setup.
"It’s hard to be a sports fan and not be in a fantasy league," Kerfoot said. "I’m in two leagues — one with the guys here and one with some of my friends back home. It’s fun to hang out with the guys on Sundays. We talk about it in the locker room all day long."
"It makes guys feel comfortable," Rielly added. "Especially guys that might be new to a team and has played fantasy before, he’s right in the mix."
But the blue-liner does have one criticism of Toronto’s league — that star forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner share a team.
"They’re such losers," Rielly said with a smile. "You shouldn’t be able to do that."
SENS FANS DREAM OF DRAFT BONANZA
Ottawa was expected to finish at or near the bottom of the overall standings again this season, with the reward being another high draft pick as the franchise’s rebuild continues. But San Jose’s rough start has been a bonus in the nation’s capital. The Senators own the Sharks’ first-round selection in 2020 as part of the Erik Karlsson trade, and could very well hit the jackpot in June. Ottawa sat alone in 31st over the weekend, while San Jose found itself in a three-way tie for 30th. No team has ever owned the top-2 selections at an NHL draft in its current form. With star forwards Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield lighting up their respective junior leagues, Sens fans are daring to dream after a couple brutal years on and off the ice.
DOUGHTY AND A ‘TEAM LIKE THAT’
A frustrated Drew Doughty sounded off after his Los Angeles Kings lost 8-2 in Vancouver last month. "It’s just (expletive) embarrassing," the star defenceman said. "A team like that should not be beating a team like ours 8-2." Without knowing it, Doughty gave birth to a slogan for the Canucks and their fans. Vancouver — which has struggled through some lean years, but currently sits second in the Pacific Division — latched onto the comment and has started producing "Team Like That" T-shirts, much like the Carolina Hurricanes’ "Bunch of Jerks" garb. Doughty, whose struggling Kings were in Toronto this week, tried to clarify his words when asked about the Canucks’ new rallying cry. "The guy’s an idiot that made all that happen," he said in reference to the T-shirts. "What I was trying to say there is they’re a young team, we’re an old team. We lost a game (8-2). That’s just ridiculous for a veteran team to lose that bad to any team in the league, not only a young team." No matter Doughty’s reasoning, it would appear the "Team Like That" slogan is here to stay.
-With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver