Detroit Red Wings center David Legwand knows how fortunate he is. He understands how unique his situation is.
Players like Legwand, whose contract runs out after the season, get moved at the NHL Trade Deadline all the time. They quickly pack a bag and race from one town to the next to meet their new team, leaving their families, if they have one, behind. They get holed up in a hotel, eat their meals either out or by way of room service, speak to their kids on Face Time or Skype, immerse themselves in hockey and ride it out until the season ends.
They rarely get traded to the place they call home, the city where they grew up, but that's what happened to Legwand on exactly one month ago, when the Nashville Predators traded him to the Red Wings for forward Patrick Eaves, forward Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional 2014 draft pick.
Legwand, who was Nashville's first draft pick (No. 2 in 1998) and never played a game for a different organization until March 6, said the trade to his native Detroit has made a big difference in how quickly he has been able to assimilate into the Red Wings' way of life.
Instead of moving into a hotel and being away from his wife and two children, Legwand and his family are together in their own house in Harrison Township, Mich., a 30-minute drive from Joe Louis Arena. He grew up in Grosse Pointe, which is approximately 15 minutes from the Red Wings' home arena.
"I think it's huge," Legwand told NHL.com in a phone interview Thursday. "Not living in a hotel, having home cooked meals, having the things that you're used to around you, it helps. Things just seem more normal. When you're in a hotel and you don't know what to do when you get back, all that is different. It's been good so far. We'll see if we can get in [to the Stanley Cup Playoffs] and go on a long run."
Detroit moved closer to clinching its 23rd consecutive playoff berth this week with wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. It is holding firm in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 88 points and five games remaining.
The Red Wings are 9-5-2 since acquiring Legwand, who has 10 points in those 16 games. They needed him badly at the time because their center depth was depleted down to the bone with injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm, Joakim Andersson and Stephen Weiss. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock put him on a line with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist, and it has worked.
Nyquist has carried the Red Wings' offense with 12 goals in the past 11 games, but Babcock said Legwand has been a steadying influence on the ice and a calming influence on the bench. He kept him with Nyquist and Franzen on Friday, when Datsyuk returned to the lineup, breaking them up only late in the third period of Detroit's 3-2 win against the Sabres.
"At the time we got him with so few centers available to us, without him, well we would have been out [of the playoff race]," Babcock said.
"We haven't spent a whole lot of time worrying about him; we just play him. He's a good pro. He's comfortable. He doesn't shrivel up. We enjoy having him."
Legwand feels like a lottery winner, and not just because he got to go home. He went from a team in Nashville that needs a miracle to make the playoffs in the Western Conference to a team in Detroit that has shown it won't accept not being in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Center - DET
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 37 | PTS: 50
SOG: 135 | +/-: -15
"It's tough when you're not in this spot, when you're not [on a team] that's going to make the playoffs," Legwand said. "When you're just playing to play it's tough to swallow. It's April. It's playoff hockey time around here [Detroit]."
But comfort level and excitement aside, Legwand's transition on the ice hasn't been so simple. The system he was playing under Barry Trotz in Nashville is night and day from the system he's in now in Detroit.
The Red Wings play with more speed and tempo, and utilize more of man-to-man principles in the defensive zone. Legwand has had to adjust on the fly in the middle of a tight playoff race at a time when his new team needed him to be excellent because of injuries.
"It was just new and different," Legwand said. "When you play in a new system some things come faster and harder. It was that type of stuff. Obviously playing the system that Barry plays it was different than the one they play here in Detroit. It is something I'm getting to understand now."
Legwand said Babcock's open-door policy has been helpful.
For example, when Babcock bumped him down to the third line late last week after he went pointless with a minus-6 rating in three straight losses to the Minnesota Wild, Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens, Legwand went to talk about his game with Babcock, who is known for being honest and up front with his players.
"He's been good with me and tells me if I miss something or don't do something right," Legwand said. "He wants you to learn. He wants to teach you. He understands we're in an important situation and we need everybody's best every night. There were a couple of games when I struggled a little bit with some things off the faceoffs and those types of things. It was coming fast for me and I struggled, but other guys were stepping up and doing things to help our team. That's when you have to be a good professional, learn and do the right things to help the guys out."
Babcock said he appreciates Legwand's approach. He liked that Legwand came into his office the morning after Detroit lost to Montreal, 5-4, when Legwand was a minus-3 and benched for the second half of the third period.
Legwand was back on the top line with Nyquist and Franzen midway through the game against Toronto, a 4-2 Red Wings' victory. Against the Lightning, Legwand had an assist on Nyquist's go-ahead goal in the first period and scored the game-winning goal on the power play late in the second. He added an assist on Nyquist's game-winning goal in the third period against Boston.
"All I know is that if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem, and it seems to me that he's part of the solution," Babcock said.