In the real world, you’d rarely – if ever – hear a story like that.
In the hockey world, they’re as commonplace as pucks.
It shouldn’t be news to you that the NHL trade deadline is just around the corner, but if it is, you should know that next to the playoffs, this is the most exciting event of the season.
If fans had their way there would be some kind of trade deadline every month; the excitement and speculation it drums up is uncanny and infectious, no one really knows who’s going where or what’s going on, but it’s one heckuva ride.
Apparently the players don’t feel the same way.
Of the 22 Canucks currently on Vancouver’s active roster, 13 have been traded at least once and six have swapped teams on deadline day.
In franchise history, Vancouver has only let seven deadlines pass without making an acquisition (last time was in 2001-02), with five being the highest number of trades executed in a single deadline by the Canucks (most recently in 2005-06).
Ryan Johnson has been traded twice in 12 years, first in 2000 when he went from Florida to Tampa Bay, then in 2001 the Lightning sent him back to the Panthers.
Heading to Tampa as a 24-year-old was a frightening experience for the forward and it started with an awkward situation on the afternoon of deadline day.
“It had hit three o’clock [the deadline is 3 p.m. EST] and we were all out on the golf course, all dressed up and posing for a team picture,” recalled Johnson.
“Everyone was happy that it was 3:05 and no one was going anywhere, then all of the sudden the PR guy’s phone rang and he was like ‘RJ, can you come here for a second.’ I was just thinking noooooooooo.”
From third place in the Eastern Conference to second last in the NHL, Johnson went from playoff planning to sizing up some new golf clubs in the blink of an eye.
“It just turns your whole world upside down,” said Johnson, who immediately packed his bags and skipped town.
“I won’t lie to you, it was real tough on me mentally because all of the sudden I was in a new city by myself, I didn’t know anyone and I was just a few games from the playoffs and now my season was done soon.”
Unless a no-trade clause is in place, any player from any team is fair game at the deadline; uncertainty is to hockey what burns are to a chef.
Rolling with the punches is the easiest way to deal with the stress and worrying that comes with deadline day, according to Shane O’Brien, whose glass is half full about the process either way.
“If you get traded that means you’ve got an opportunity to go into a new situation where they obviously want you, and at the same time if you don’t get traded then you know that this team likes you enough to hang onto you.”
O’Brien has gone through the unenviable process twice, most recently when he came to Vancouver at the start of this season. Before that, he went from Anaheim to Tampa Bay three days before the deadline in 2007.
“I was nervous from about a week before, I had a feeling they were trying to get a first-round pick and all that stuff,” said O’Brien, who became Lightning property, along with a third-round pick, in exchange for Gerald Coleman and a first-round pick.
“I was driving home from practice, it was me and Corey Perry, we were living down in Newport Beach and we were headed down for lunch. I had a 714 area code call my cell and I asked Corey if I should roll the dice and answer it, he said yeah and that I’d be fine.
“Sure enough it was [Brian] Burke and he asked me where I was. I said I was driving and he told me not to drive off the road but that he had just traded me.
“I was happy playing in Anaheim, but he told me I was headed to Tampa and I didn’t think that was too bad.”
The whirlwind of emotions a player goes through immediately after being traded varies and for O’Brien it started with sheer excitement. From there, it was confusion and sadness, then excitement resurfaced.
“It was definitely a tough experience the first time I got traded, but it’s like anything in life, once you through it once, it gets easier.”
Darcy Hordichuk doesn’t share that sentiment.
He’s been dealt four times, the most of any Canuck; one of those trades was near zero hour, the other a few days before.
From Atlanta to Phoenix, Phoenix to Florida, Florida to Nashville and Nashville to Carolina, of travel, Hordichuk’s done his share, man. He’s been everywhere.
The first time Hordichuk was traded was back in ’02 at the deadline, he went from a Thrasher to a Coyote and found out via a call from The Great One.
“I was driving along when I got the call from Gretzky,” said Hordiuck. “He called and said that they had traded for me and were happy to have me on board.
“I thought it was just one of my buddies playing a joke so I had a double-take on the phone and I had to ask who I was speaking with. He laughed and said ‘it’s Wayne, we just wanted to let you know we’re happy to have you in the organization.’”
“It was pretty neat to have Wayne Gretzky call me.”
Preparing for the worst and praying for the best seems to be the most fitting course of action for players heading into deadline day, but in the end a good chunk of NHLers will have a few trade stories to tell when all is said and done.
Thankfully the real world is different and the position in Albuquerque will remain vacant.