Preissing, who broke into the NHL with San Jose in 2003-04, won’t soon forget last July 9. He was first traded to Chicago by the Sharks with Josh Hennessy in exchange for forward Mark Bell, then shipped off to Ottawa by Chicago with Josh Hennessy, Michal Barinka and a second-round choice in the 2008 entry draft for winger Martin Havlat and centre Bryan Smolinski.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t hurt at first,” said Preissing, a native of Arlington Heights, Ill. “Emotionally I put so much into that team and basically they’re saying ‘We don’t want you anymore.’ I tried not to take it personally but it’s hard not to.”
Meanwhile, the Hawks were seen as the big winners, getting a star sniper in Havlat, and paying him the US$6 million a year the Senators couldn’t afford, while the Sharks were pumped about getting what they felt in Bell was the missing link on their first line with Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo.
The Senators? They got a lukewarm response at best on the home front for acquiring the unheralded Preissing. But while Havlat suffered through an injury-plagued season (although he was dynamite when he played) and Bell ended up a fourth-line winger in San Jose, the Senators have got all they could ask from Preissing, who tied with superstar Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit with top plus-minus among NHL defenceman at plus-40.
“I think he’s a big asset to our defence,” Senators GM John Muckler said ahead of Saturday’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final. “We wanted to build a defence that was going to be quicker that it has been in the past, move the puck quicker out of our zone because we’re a hockey club that’s all about speed and counter. He became a big part of that.”
It didn’t come easy at first.
“To be honest I looked at where this team was and where I was coming from, I thought the transition would be pretty seamless,” said Preissing. “Realistically? It was tough. It took me probably a good 20 to 30 games before I felt comfortable with my new teammates and the system here.”
He ended up with 38 points (7-31) in 80 regular-season games – tops among all Senators blue-liners – and carried two goals and four assists in 11 playoff games into Saturday night’s affair.
“Tommy is a really good hockey player,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said Saturday from San Jose. “It was just one of those things that you have to give to get and that’s the player that they wanted. But Tom has shown the things that he’s capable of doing. And he played very well for us as well.”
The question now is whether Preissing will play more than one season in Ottawa. He’s slated for unrestricted free agency July 1 and will be getting a sizable raise from the $600,000 he’s making this season.
“We do want him back, we’re really going to work hard to be able to do that,” said Muckler.
The feeling is mutual.
“I’d love to stay in Ottawa, I’ve come to really like the city and the people,” said Preissing.
“We talked about it a little bit before the playoffs started and really that’s been about it,” he added. “We left it that we would talk again after the playoffs because we don’t want that distraction right now.”
The irony certainly isn’t lost on him, meanwhile, that he’s still playing hockey while his former team is out.
“I was expecting them to make it to the Cup final, quite frankly,” said Preissing. “If I was to pick out a team from the West, I was going to pick San Jose. I still have a lot of friends on that team and part of me is still there, because that’s the first team I played for. I felt like I grew up with that organization.
“It was pretty disheartening to see not only that they lost but how they lost. They had a couple of unfortunate plays that cost them the series against Detroit.”