When the sun rose Tuesday morning and brought light to a new day beyond the trade deadline, there were a number of NHL rosters that appeared significantly different than they did just days before. The previous weeks have seen players traded like cheap pogs in an elementary school playground and GMs put new faces and nameplates in cities far, far away.
The thing is, they don’t always get shipped far, far away. Sometimes they get shipped within the conference. Or, worse still, within the division.
Trading a player to a division foe is a dangerous move. You’ve basically shipped out a guy who was struggling, doubled his motivation, gave him a fresh start and then made your team play against him with frequency.
I’ve been traded and returned to play my old team when Reading dealt me to Idaho in during the 2008-09 ECHL season. It’s an odd feeling.
I was never the most serious guy at the rink, but, naturally, I took offense to the trade and wanted to come back and stuff it in their face. Still, those are your buddies on the other team. I didn’t want to hurt them. It was their GM I wanted to bodycheck through the glass.
When you play your old team on the road – your old home – it’s a bizarre feeling. Your body isn’t quite sure what to think after seeing the same sights, smelling the same smells, then turning into the visitor’s dressing room. I’d say the feeling compares to writing with your opposite hand.
Prior to the game, you take care of some of the unavoidable business – you write some money up on the board to serve as motivation for your teammates to help you get that win. Returning to play your old team and having to walk out after a loss is not an appealing prospect.
As you hack around the soccer ball to warmup, you can’t help but glance down the hallway to the other side. In most cases, you’ll know your old team better than your new team, but there’s plenty of time for chatting after the game. Going to say hello prior to the game isn’t such a smart idea, assuming you don’t want to be traded again.
Once the game was on, I made my mission simple: I would try to hurt them the best way I knew how – by scoring a goal – and I would try to make at least a couple of them laugh, knowing how much their coach loathed casual banter on the ice.
That first mission was thwarted by something called a James Reimer – not for my lack of trying, after getting off about nine shots – but I accomplished the second one. It was a frustrating night to say the least, but I never stopped pumping my legs and throwing my body around as much as possible. (Apparently that Reimer kid has done well for himself since then…probably thanks to my making him look good. Let’s assume.)
It differs from player to player, of course. Some guys just have that killer instinct where revenge must be had, so someone must pay the price. For me, it was the embarrassment of being traded that motivated me. It was just so weird stepping in front of fans who, I assumed, must be thinking their GM didn’t believe I was good enough to play there.
In the NHL these days, we’ll be seeing plenty of homecomings, with players likely feeling the way I did – wrong-handed, slightly angry and fully motivated.
The Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues have played since their interesting four-man swap (Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement). Not surprisingly, the three key pieces managed to tally points. Don’t be shocked if you see a similar pattern with the recently traded. Those games aren’t hard to get up for.
Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. Justin will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin’s blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.