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De Vries doesn't let trades slow his career

Tuesday, 03.03.2009 / 1:00 AM / 2009 Trade Deadline

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

Playing for a Barry Trotz-coached team is simple. You know you are going to be judged on working hard, playing smart and that defense drives the motor of the Nashville Predators.

That's what defenseman Greg de Vries learned back in October of 1998 when he was traded by Edmonton to Nashville and played in just six games there. And that's still the mantra for the Predators and deVries more than 10 years later.

With the season winding down and the Predators looking to make the playoffs for the fifth-consecutive season, the 36-year-old, 6-foot-2, 215-pound defenseman from Sundridge, Ontario, knows his role in helping Nashville make another playoff run.

"Yeah, I'm the old guy, probably seven years older than the next oldest defenseman," he said. "I look at it as a challenge."

When de Vries signed with Nashville as a free agent in July of 2007 after five seasons in Colorado, he knew Trotz would demand that he move the puck in transition and perform shutdown duties defensively. He knew he would be perfect for that role.

After returning from an injury in early February, de Vries helped the Predators to back-to-back victories Feb. 3 against Phoenix and two nights later against Anaheim. This veteran defender is clearly a leader and voice of reason in a relatively young Nashville dressing room, where he serves as a mentor to young D-men Dan Hamhuis, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Greg Zanon, Ville Koistinen and Kevin Klein. But he's still playing more than 17 minutes a night.

A trip down memory lane for Greg could be awkward, considering the brief time he spent in Nashville the first time. But de Vries laughs now and says words that are as fresh in his mind today as if they were spoken just yesterday. Seriously, Greg does remember every word he heard a little more than 10 years ago, when he first arrived in Nashville in a trade from Edmonton ... then departed 23 days later in yet another trade to Colorado after playing in just six games with the Predators. He came back to Nashville as a free agent 19 months ago.

Maybe now is where we insert the phrase: The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

De Vries can laugh about his here today, gone tomorrow life that has included more dramatic twists and turns than most other players will experience. I'll never forget de Vries what Trotz and Predators General Manager David Poile told him shortly after he arrived in Nashville the first time.

"Don't get comfortable. That's what I was told, when I arrived in Nashville," de Vries laughed. "I said, 'OK, but ..." Greg took a deep breath and then continued, saying, "A few weeks later, I was told, 'You're OK now.' So, my wife and I rented an apartment. In fact, the moving van had just arrived with our belongings from Edmonton. I remember having everything in its place and on a Sunday morning we had just gone out to get groceries to fill the fridge when the phone rang. It was David Poile. He told me I had been traded to Colorado. So, I kissed my wife and jumped on a plane an hour later."

Angry? Frustrated? Not on your life.

"Edmonton never thought I'd play in the NHL, but they did give me a chance by trading me to Nashville," de Vries remembered. "Then ..."

He paused to laugh at the roller-coaster ride he's taken -- from midget hockey in Cortina, Aurora in Junior B, Stratford, Bowling Green State University for one year, then back to Ontario, where he played for Niagara Falls before he got a tryout to play for Edmonton's farm team at Cape Breton in the American Hockey League in 1994-95.

"I wasn't drafted, so I was always battling scouts, who push for the guys they drafted," de Vries said. "I think I got better by watching the good players I was fortunate to play with."

And when he was traded to Colorado, well, that was a natural for this journeyman to learn on the job.

"I just wanted a chance to play and this deal gave me an opportunity to go to Denver to play and learn from leaders like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Patrick Roy," he said. "Who could ask for more than that?"
"I just wanted a chance to play and this deal gave me an opportunity to go to Denver to play and learn from leaders like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Patrick Roy. Who could ask for more than that?" -- Greg De Vries
"We were an expansion team," Poile said in retrospect. "We had eight defensemen. In hind's sight, maybe we didn't wait long enough to get a better read on Greg. Colorado offered us a second-round pick. We were trying to build something here for the future and that draft pick looked like it would be more of a value for us at the time."

The Sundridge native (population 800) doesn't play a flashy style that would ever get his name mentioned in Norris Trophy voting, but teams that have anticipated contending for a championship like Colorado, the New York Rangers, Ottawa and Atlanta have acquired him with bigger and better things in mind -- mostly because of his ability to provide the consistent and dependable calm in the defensive zone, the smooth transition and mobility needed in the neutral zone and the savvy and skills to step up and get involved in the offense at the other end of the rink.

What was the best advice he's ever gotten.

"That's easy, my dad always said, 'Never give up.' " de Vries recalled. "Critics always told me to go back to my small town and play. That made me angry."

De Vries laughed when asked where his athletic genes came from.

"Not my dad," Greg laughed. "He's never been on skates."

Bill de Vries was a school teacher turned principal in Sundridge,
Ontario, which is a bout three hours north of Toronto. Marilyn, Greg's mom, is a nurse.

"That hard work ethic and caring about people that I got from my
parents has taken me a long way," de Vries said prophetically.

From Sundridge to Edmonton to Nashville to Colorado to ...


Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp