But this latest move in the defenseman's lengthy career was about as pain-free as any trade can be. Try having an hour-long drive to practice cut down to 15 minutes.
"You look at gas now," O'Donnell said with a chuckle. "Every little bit helps."
There was no need to call the moving van or put the home up for sale. The trade of O'Donnell from the Anaheim Ducks to the Kings on Oct. 1 not only allowed the tough defenseman to keep making suburban Hermosa Beach his year-round residence, but it made him a trivia answer of sorts.
Twenty players have suited up for the two Southern California teams, but the transaction involving O'Donnell was just the second between them in the 15 years since Anaheim joined the NHL. And both trades have occurred in the last eight months.
Even Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi acknowledged that he looked long and hard at acquiring former Ducks defenseman Mathieu Schneider, now with Atlanta. Is this proof that the Kings and Ducks have broken the ice?
"We've done a lot of talking," Lombardi said. "We know each other too well to fool each other, so let's just get on with it."
Anaheim needed to clear salary to get under the cap after signing high-scoring star Teemu Selanne. The Ducks figured that the high-priced Schneider would be on the move, but it became clear that O'Donnell was also considered expendable when former Anaheim GM Brian Burke acquired veteran defenders Steve Montador and Ken Klee.
Enter the Kings, who did an extensive remake of their defense and were looking for an experienced hand to guide some youngsters.
"There were some guys that we were looking at that fit a one-year deal," Lombardi said. "I was holding out for that type of guy. A left-hand shot that's good enough to play with a good player and a high-character guy that'll make sure nobody takes liberties with his guys."
The trade may not have caused a great deal of upheaval in O'Donnell's personal life, but it didn't mean that he wasn't shocked by the maneuver. One moment, the affable, talkative veteran was spending his summer preparing to help the Ducks regain the form that made them the 2007 Stanley Cup champions and erase memories of a first-round playoff loss to Dallas. The next moment, he was looking at an 82-game season with a team that finished last in the Western Conference last season with many prognosticators making the same forecast for 2008-09.
It took O'Donnell two days to process the turn of events in his professional life.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the teams are at different places right now," he said. "All summer, I trained to help a team win the Stanley Cup. And that's was kind of my goal and my motivation. We were close. Anaheim is one of the five, six teams that gets serious mention right there.
"When that didn't happen and I came to L.A., which is at a different stage of rebuilding and a different stage of progress, it did take a little bit of an adjustment. Like I said, you can sit there and wonder what if and why this happened. Anaheim made a business decision that they felt was the right thing for them to do. L.A., from what I hear, kind of had me on the radar for a little bit and was interested in having me.
"Now, I couldn't be happier. It's a great group of guys. And I'm wanted here."
Kings coach Terry Murray, in his first season in L.A., has given O'Donnell a big role, playing him 21:22 minutes a night. O'Donnell has responded with 7 assists and a plus-1 rating in 39 games.
"If I can have an impact or whatever on this kid and 10 years later, he can look back after six consecutive all-star games and say Sean O'Donnell really helped me out, then there's no bigger compliment than that."
-- Sean O'Donnell, on rookie defenseman Drew Doughty
The time spent with the Ducks cannot be ignored. Too many good memories are worth cherishing.
As a top-four shutdown defender playing alongside Chris Pronger, O'Donnell played a large role in the most successful period of the franchise's history. Among his personal highlights was the first playoff game-winning goal in his career that won Game 4 of the 2006 Western Conference quarterfinals against Calgary, an eventual seven-game series win that put the Ducks on a championship path.
A year later, O'Donnell was hoisting the Cup and talking hockey with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Pronger credited his former teammate with allowing him to become a Norris Trophy finalist in 2007.
"There's always a lot of unsung heroes," Pronger said. "There's only so much media attention that can go around. A lot of guys don't get as much fanfare or media run as they probably deserve.
Upon learning of the trade, Anaheim center Todd Marchant sent the defenseman a text message to thank him for his contribution and express his pleasure at having him as a teammate.
"It was a nice touch. It was cool," O'Donnell said. "I've made a bunch of stops along the way. I have a room in my house where I store lots of pictures. Even though I was only there for three years, I'd say 50 percent of them are with the Anaheim guys, whether it's Cup photos or team pictures or playoff shots. Guys holding a beer, celebrating after a win. No matter what happens, or where I go or where I end up, I'll look back on something special."
The Kings are the other team that O'Donnell will always identify himself with, having ushered him into the League as a 24-year-old following a trade with Buffalo for defenseman Doug Houda. He spent his first five full years in Los Angeles and played in two postseasons.
This time around, O'Donnell is the seasoned vet that is being paired with touted 18-year-old Drew Doughty, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. Teacher and student.
O'Donnell recalled when he learned how to prepare himself every day from players such as former Kings and San Jose Sharks defenseman Rob Blake and former players Marty McSorley and Steve Finn. Now he hopes to pass along his knowledge to Doughty.
"If I can have an impact or whatever on this kid and 10 years later, he can look back after six consecutive all-star games and say Sean O'Donnell really helped me out, then there's no bigger compliment than that," O'Donnell said.