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A Player Diary ... With Joe Nieuwendyk

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Joe joined the Leafs as a home-town boy who's seen success everywhere he's played. Joe keeps you up to date throughout the season with his periodic player diaries.

-- Maple Leafs Centreman
March 24, 2003

It's been a while since my last entry, so I think a good place to start is leading up to the trade deadline.

It's always a tough time for a player. You try and say the right things to the media that is not a distraction and that you're focused on hockey, but deep down you know when you go home everyday and hear all the stuff that's going on, as a player you start to wonder if you could be traded.

(Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

Of course, in the media everything is more focused on the trade deadline and they've got 24-hour coverage on TV, something you don't see in New Jersey or Dallas, that's for sure. But that's just part of playing in the city and I don't think I'd have it any other way than to play in this environment and that's all part of it.

The whole trade-deadline scenario has kind of taken on a whole life of its own. It really can be a tough time for players. You could be uprooting your whole family.

When I found out I was traded to New Jersey two years ago I had just bought a house and had a baby. The way it can go is that you find out you're traded and three hours later you're on a plane and you just leave everything behind. That's always tough on your family that you leave behind and tough on you as a player.

It certainly isn't something that the players get as excited about as the fans maybe do.

There were a lot of names on our team floating around in rumours so it's always an uncomfortable time for players. I think everybody's pretty relieved when the deadline finally passes. 

The result for us though was really quite pleasing and we got some pretty good acquisitions.

Brian Leetch is still one of the premier defencemen in the league as we saw with him getting the Offensive Player of the Week last week and to add a guy like that really solidified our lineup.

I know there was a lot of talk all season long about how we needed help on our blueline. Well this guy does a lot more than that. He solidifies everything back there and now you have a lot of options in the lineup as to who you put with who and I think that issue's been put to rest.

Ronnie Francis, with all the things he's done in his career, the experience factor and just the intelligence level in his playing style will really help us.

And who would've thought Calle Johansson? I don't think anyone expected that one and we sure didn't as players. But, here he is now playing regularly after sitting out all season long.

I'm sure we planned on easing him in a little slower but when Kenny Klee went down in Philadelphia he played around 25 minutes and that's a lot to ask of a guy who hasn't played in almost a year. He's the type of guy though who only needs a week or so to get ready and seems to skate so effortlessly that he's really settled in nicely thus far.

(Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

I've always liked Chad Kilger as a player. I've played against him for a long time and always thought he was tough to play against. Unfortunately it's a number game for him right now and hasn't got a chance to play yet, but I really think that there is a huge upside to him.

He's a big kid who skates well and shoots well so I think that he's an awfully good pickup for us as well.

In terms of my health, I feel good right now. I know I've had a history of some back troubles and have to be careful in my day-to-day activities, but right now I feel good. I'm making more of a concerted effort to strengthen my back, especially at this time of year.

As long as I'm not running around the house picking up the kids all day I think I'll be in good shape!

On the ice we've got quite a playoff race going on right now. I know I've never seen anything like it in the 17/18 years I've been playing. Usually at this time of year you can look at the standings and start to see where everyone's going to end up.

This year we don't know if we're going to finish in first or sixth, or even seventh. That's how tight it is. In a lot of ways though, I think that it's great.

It really does keep you on your toes and I'd rather have like this than maybe being way ahead in first place and not really playing for anything. I think it really keeps you focused on the games and can have you playing your best hockey at the right time of year.

Thanks for checking in with me and I'll talk to you in the playoffs.

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