During the offseason, tampabaylightning.com will talk to Lightning players to get their first-hand account of a moment from the 2017-18 season, an update on their summer or just what's on their mind currently.
On February 26, 2018 (NHL trade deadline day), J.T. Miller was on a New York Rangers charter flight bound for Vancouver not knowing whether the teammates around him would be teammates once he landed.
As told to tampabaylightning.com beat writer Bryan Burns, Miller describes how he found out he'd been traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, what it was like going from a team out of the playoff hunt to one with Stanley Cup aspirations midseason and how the Lightning finishing off the New Jersey Devils in five games in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs turned out to be the best news for Miller and his pregnant wife.
"Trade deadline day was kind of a tense day because we were pretty much told in New York that everyone was on the table and we were rebuilding. The team had made a statement clearly that we're getting rid of a lot of people to rebuild. We had a 1:30 p.m. flight, so we knew - there's a lot of deals happening around 3 o'clock in the NHL -- at some point on this trip someone would be traded. I didn't think it was going to be me. Mac (Ryan McDonagh) got traded but he didn't make the trip because he was injured at the time, so he was still home. Right at 3 -- obviously the deal went down before then -- my president Glen Sather came back and grabbed me at the card table and informed me I'd been traded to Tampa when the plane was about halfway between New York and Vancouver.
Everybody on the plane knew Mac got traded because there were rumors going around. I didn't have internet on the plane. Some of the other guys did, so they were keeping us up to date on who was going where. Everybody said Mac to Tampa, and we were like, 'Damn, that sucks.' Good for him but we're losing our captain and they've officially shipped out everybody at that point. When it got to 3 o'clock, I thought it was over and no one knew that I was in the trade with him at the time because we had bad service up there. When (Sather) came back, I couldn't believe he grabbed me. I didn't even realize what was going on until he started talking to me. Honestly, I thought the deadline had passed and it was over. I kind of thought he just wanted to talk to me about moving on and us having a good second half of the season. Those weren't the words that came out of his mouth. It was a pretty surreal moment and one you're definitely not ready for. There's no bad blood or bad feelings between the Rangers and I. It was a peaceful send off if you will.
It was pretty silent on the plane. It wasn't like a - it was just weird that it actually happened. We always thought about what if it happened. The fact that it was actually you was crazy. I wasn't excited, sad; I was pretty much speechless for the next couple hours before I could really take in what just happened. I knew my name was getting tossed around, but I was under the impression that I was pretty safe in New York. But everyone has a price. There's always a right deal, and apparently it was a good deal for both teams.
You can look at it two ways: The Rangers don't want you or Tampa does want you. I'm not the type of guy to sit back and dwell on things in the past. They did what they had to do. I talked to management there and they said it was a business decision and they got rid of everybody, so it's not like they didn't want me personally I don't think. We traded six core guys on the team in one year. There's no bad blood. I don't think it was like they didn't want me. The way our season went in New York and then obviously them firing AV [head coach Alain Vigneault] at the end of the year, they clearly just kind of wanted a fresh start. I was super pumped that Tampa wanted me. I knew Coop [Lightning head coach Jon Cooper] a little bit from before. I knew a handful of the players down there that I've played with. I think it was a good fit.
When I got off the plane, everybody said good bye and good luck. I talked to the coaches and the management briefly. I had a little bit of time to do so. It's pretty wild actually. Steve [Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman] was very helpful. He basically told me I could do whatever I wanted. I could stay an extra day in Vancouver since I had just flown cross country and would have to fly right back to get to Tampa. He told me I didn't have to play in the game against Buffalo [two nights later on February 28]. Or I could try to make it back in time for the Buffalo game. My wife was eight months pregnant at the time. Belec [Lightning director of team services Ryan Belec] and Breezer [Lightning senior director of communications Brian Breseman] and those guys were super helpful in making the transition because I had none of my stuff from New York. Eight months pregnant, my wife had to pack a whole house herself and change doctors and move and meet me down in Tampa. We just kind of wung it. Natalie's a beast. She does so much for me. She makes it so easy on me, eight months pregnant to boot. She got the car shipped from New York, got our dog shipped from New York and packed up an entire house with a friend of hers and she can barely get around herself and got all of our stuff in storage and taken care of and then got our house set up in Tampa. She's an awesome lady. She really takes care of me when it comes to that regard. I'm going through a completely new experience and wanting to make a good first impression with the Lightning but also realize we had six more weeks until the playoffs so it was crunch time. She was understanding that I had to be 100 percent focused.
I told the guys in Tampa, 'I can't get back on a plane right now after that flight.' I told them I wanted to stay over in Vancouver and I got on like the 5 o'clock flight the next morning and flew to Tampa, did a connector in Dallas and got in to Tampa that evening. I think I left at 5 o'clock Vancouver time and got in at 6 o'clock Eastern time in Tampa that night and had to play the next day. I woke up and played a home game, got back on a plane, went back to Dallas, played against the Stars (Thursday) night, stayed over, flew home the next day and had a 1 o'clock game in Tampa on Saturday against Philadelphia. I didn't really blink until after that game. We had that Sunday off and that's when our wives flew down. Fortunately, we only had four games in the next two weeks. It was a great schedule. It worked out so nicely. My wife and I had time to find a place for the rest of the year to rent out and we got a house and the whole thing and it worked out for us. It's crazy. My wife knew about the trade before I did because she was back home in New York and Kaylee McDonagh [Ryan McDonagh's wife] got a hold of her and said, 'You're coming with us,' and my wife was like, 'What?' They actually knew before I did.
I was so excited to know that Mac was in the deal too, to be going with somebody I knew because I was pretty good friends with Mac and our wives were pretty good friends too. To go through something like that with somebody just makes it much easier on yourself. And to know a lot of the guys on the Lightning too because me and Mac knew like half the team in Tampa already so it was a pretty seamless transition I think.
Before the trade, I was expecting to be home in mid-April. That would have been the first time I would have missed the playoffs, and I didn't know how to take that. Everything changed with the trade. Then it went back to now I have a chance to win. Up until this year, I had always been on a really good hockey team in New York and we always had a chance at the end of the year of going deep and there'd been some good runs with that team. It was pretty easy for me to get back into 'alright, let's go' mode and you look at it like another chance at it.
Video: BOS@TBL, Gm5: Miller nets PPG off give-and-go play
My wife went into labor Sunday, April 22 and my daughter Scottlyn Marie was born Monday night on April 23. She gave birth between the New Jersey and Boston playoff series. We had just won Game 5 against Jersey on a Saturday and had Sunday off. We were having a little get together at my house by the pool with some friends. And then Natalie went into labor. You never know how it's going to work out. She gave me a little nudge before Game 5 against Jersey and said, 'Try to win the game tonight. I've got a weird feeling about something.' We're super fortunate that everything's good and everybody's healthy.
We had one week between games in the playoffs when my daughter was born, and I was thankful it worked out the way it did. It's very rare if you have a baby during the hockey season you get to experience the first week of their life, no matter if it's regular season or playoffs. We were super lucky. She came five days early. If she would have come on her due date -- we did the math -- I think she would have been born during a road game in Boston. That would have been difficult.
I had so much experience around little babies with teammates and stuff, so many friends that are dads. I feel like you're ready for it but you're not. The delivery rocks your world and she's everything and it puts everything into perspective and you realize that your family is your number one priority. You always realize that but you'd do anything for your child. It's been the best. She's almost four months already. I can't believe it. It's insane. I feel like I just left Tampa and her four month checkup is in a week."