SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s been a few days since the NHL trade deadline has passed and the dust is beginning to settle. Some players are getting settled into their new teams and their new cities and some players might still be trying to catch their breaths.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to think that these transitions are seamless. It’s a business and results are demanded right away, but the reality is that it’s not that always that simple. There is a human element that people tend to forget about and the human side of trade season is complicated.
"You don’t really breathe fully for at least a week,” New Jersey Devils’ defenseman Connor Carrick said. “After that, the permanence sets in and that’s something that’s really hard.”
Carrick played for three different organizations before the Dallas Stars traded him to New Jersey a few days of the 2019 deadline in a deal for Ben Lovejoy. He was drafted by the Washington Capitals and traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the deadline in 2016 as part of the Daniel Winnik trade.
Last season, Toronto dealt him to Dallas on October 10, 2018, and then he was sent to New Jersey a few months later. It was a lot of turbulence in one season for him and his wife, Lexi. As trade season approached this year, familiar anxiety set in. Would he have to pick up and leave again?
“As a player, you build dreams and relationships around the organization that you’re with and those kind of die a sudden death,” Carrick said. “When you get traded, it ain’t no summer camp. You’re there until you’re not. I was in Washington and had close friends and then boom, I haven’t played a game with them since. You’re with these people every single day and then not again. So I would say that’s the acceptance process.”
Every locker room experiences some sense of unease in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Teams at the bottom of the standings, like the Devils, know who is going and players can brace themselves. But there are surprises, like Blake Coleman, who was traded with a year left on his contract and wife nearly ready to give birth to their first child.
“You’ve got guys like Blake Coleman, who is getting ready to have a baby. You’ve got a big ball in the air that you’re getting ready to juggle and then you’re thrown a couple cities, you’re moved,” Carrick said. “It’s a lot. You’re trying to sort of shake it out.”
The process goes something like this: A general manager contacts player X to inform him he’s being traded. Player X then waits to hear from his new GM. Then, he’s put in contact with team services to figure out travel arrangements and lodging. Sometimes it’s a hotel, sometimes it’s an apartment and sometimes players get to choose between the two.
Rental players might stay with another team member or in some cases, they move into the house or apartment of player that was just traded away.
“You pack the essentials,” Carrick said. “You need a suit and tie for every game. You remember your coat and some casual clothes and off you go.”
The process takes a toll on the families as well.
Families often stay behind for a period of time until those arrangements become a little more final. Some don’t come at all because they have kids in school. Lexi stayed behind the first time Carrick was traded because she was working in Washington. When he left Dallas, she stayed behind for a few days with their dog, Hoagie.
“They’re in the fight just as we are,” Carrick said. “Lexi has always been a champ about it but there is no question that we’ve have had some hard nights where she’s looked at me and said, ‘I miss this situation,’ or ‘I miss my friends.’ It’s hard because I’ve got my plate full trying to be as successful as I can. You have to recognize the negatives but you’ve got to build positives at a rate that you can get comfortable with.”
The easy part is once you get on the ice. When everything feels strange and out of place, it’s the one place that makes sense.
“It’s mostly a copycat league so everybody plays generally the same and there are a couple things that change based on personnel,” Carrick said. “I’ve been in the league long enough now where I know how teams play and I’m always trying to study.”
This is where the business-like mentality comes into play. The pressure is a privilege and despite the relationships and the friendships, hockey is still the priority.
“You’re paying me to play hockey,” Carrick said. “So you think, ‘OK, what am I going to do to get that right?’”
As each day passes and the trade deadline starts to get further and further away in the rearview mirror each player starts to feel the same thing: Certainty.
Four days after the deadline, Carrick and other players throughout the league are a little more certain of their roles, their games and their cities. It's a relief and it's invigorating all at once.
“At the end of the day, there’s one puck, five guys on each side and a goalie,” Carrick said. “Let’s go.”