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Coaches Room

Players' stress, angst run rampant ahead of Trade Deadline

Mullen knows firsthand how it feels to go to new city, team

by Joe Mullen / Special to

The Coaches Room is a weekly column by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Jim Corsi, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Joe Mullen will take turns providing insight. 

In this edition, Mullen, a former assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers and 2000 player inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, talks about what it's like for player to be traded before the NHL Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET on Feb. 26 this season) and how a coach can help that player adjust to his new team.

Being traded before the NHL Trade Deadline can be unsettling for a player. 

The first time I was traded was Feb. 1, 1986. The St. Louis Blues traded me and defensemen Terry Johnson and Rik Wilson to the Calgary Flames for defenseman Charles Bourgeois and forwards Eddy Beers and Gino Cavallini.

That season, the trade deadline was on March 11, but the rumors had started around Christmas. I'm usually comfortable where I am and I don't like a whole lot of change, so the rumors made me pretty uncomfortable. 

But you've still got to play hockey and you've got to go out and perform. That's how I looked at it. Eventually I got it in my head that, "All right, if they don't want me, hopefully, somebody else does."

I wasn't supposed to be traded to a Canadian team because I had an agreement with Blues general manager Ron Caron before the season. I sat out the preseason under a contract dispute and when we agreed on a new contract, I said, "Look, I don't want to be traded, and if you do have to trade me I don't want to go to Canada." He said, "Agreed." 

Then he trades me to Calgary. 

It was right after a game. We had back-to-back games with the Detroit Red Wings and the second game was at home. Right after that game, they called me into the office and told me I was being traded to Calgary. I kind of lost it for a little bit. 

At the time, my wife, Linda, was about six months pregnant with our third child. I think that's the hardest part, leaving your family behind while you go and play. 

If you've got young children and you're leaving them behind, you're going to miss them. And I'm sure it was the same for the players that went from Calgary to St. Louis.

That season we went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (when the Flames lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games). We actually played St. Louis in the Campbell Conference Final (when Calgary won in seven games).

You try to control what you can control, and that's going out and playing. That's the way I always kind of looked at it.

And you know what? That trade to the Flames turned out to be the best thing for my career. I played five seasons in Calgary and to play with that team and have the success that we had was great.

As soon as I got off the plane, people there made me feel welcome. I was walking through the airport and I had nothing to say who I was, no bags with logos on it or anything, no sticks, and people were going, 'Hey Joey, good to have you.' It was pretty cool. 

We went to the Stanley Cup Final that season and won the Stanley Cup in 1989. I loved it in St. Louis, and I loved it in Calgary. 

Like I said, once I get accustomed to the place, I usually end up really liking it. 

As a coach, when a trade is made I try to draw on my experiences to help an incoming player get adjusted to his new environment on and off the ice as quickly as possible. You want him to feel good about the trade and about himself. 

The coaching staff makes sure he's familiar with the team's rules, systems, and expectations, but you want to do that without overwhelming them in one day. You can have one guy going into three different types of meetings. You have the systems. Then, you've got the power play and the penalty kill, and you don't want to overload them with too much information.

Most guys come in and adjust very quickly. They have a lot of hockey sense and you don't have to spend a whole lot of time with them.

You want him to know that you're there for him to become a better player, answer questions and be able to trust the process the team is implementing. As far as coaching goes, that's pretty much all you can do.  

Then, it's time to play hockey and get to know your new teammates.  

These are the guys that help make the transition complete. Once you know you can depend on each other, that's when you know you belong there. At end of the day, everyone has the same goal, and that's to win.

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