Edmonton, AB - Coming into the day, Tom Gilbert and Nick Schultz had similar expectations. Having spent their entire NHL careers in one city and with not even a whisper about relocation prior to Monday's 1pm MT trade deadline, neither expected that to change.
But, particularly in pro sports, you have to expect the unexpected. And mere hours before calls and faxes would no longer be accepted, the pair was exchanged in a one-for-one, pure-hockey trade that sent Schultz to Oil Country.
"I didn't hear my name until last night when one of our reporters asked me about it and said he'd heard my name a little bit," said the Strasbourg, Saskatchewan product. "That was the only time I'd thought about it.
"It was a surprise that way."
Schultz, 29, and the Minnesota Wild's longest-serving player prior to Monday's transaction, was understandably emotional when the news surfaced. Selected 33rd overall by the Wild in 2000, he spent 10 years as a stay-at-home rearguard, quietly honing his craft and becoming one of the most well-liked personalities in the locker room.
"It's going to be new for me," Schultz said, noting that he'd never been traded in his NHL career. "I've been in Minnesota my whole career and it's going to be a new process, being traded and getting integrated to a new team and new system. But it's something players have to do all the time."
Gilbert will be one of them, but he's getting the rare and exciting chance to go back home. The Bloomington, Minnesota native spent parts of six seasons with the Oilers; and, while he never got the opportunity to compete in the post-season, he'll be going to a squad in the thick of it when it comes to the Western Conference's heated race.
"I can actually see my parents smiling right now," he said with a chuckle as he addressed the local media at Rexall Place. "I haven't even looked at my phone and all my texts. I'm sure they've tried calling and texting and they probably already have a house for me. It's exciting to go back home."
Although his new place in St. Paul will be a blessing in that regard, Gilbert admitted that it was going to be tough to say goodbye. Edmonton was where he called home and where his NHL career blossomed into what it is, posting 33 goals and 158 points in 384 games with the orange and blue.
He still believes they're on the right path.
"You could see the direction they're headed, especially with these young guys that are coming into the league, every game they're getting better and better," Gilbert explained. "You can see the talent, there's so much room for improvement and the sky's the limit with a lot of these younger players.
"You can see the amount of skilled players they have and where they're headed, too," the ex-Oiler added of the Wild. "It's exciting for me."
It's that very same excitement that Schultz hopes to bring to the Oilers. The 6'1", 200-pound blueliner sees similar growth with his new club, and it's something he's had a good look at, considering the Wild and Oilers have already wrapped up their six-game season series.
"It's exciting," he said, "When you go in there and play Edmonton, they've had a lot of weapons and great young players. It's not only the young guys, too, as they've got some great veteran guys there that can still play. I think there's a great mix and it's a team that's going to be tough to play against every single night. It's a learning process and I think they're going through that right now, but we're not far away from being a really good team.
"As a kid growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan, I cheered for the Oilers," Schultz added. "It's exciting to get an opportunity to be an Oiler and be part of such a storied franchise. That's exciting, as a youngster watching the greats, growing up and cheering for them, and all of a sudden being a part of it. I've only heard great things about Edmonton and about the Oilers, so I can't wait to get there."
As General Manager Steve Tambellini explained, Schultz was brought in to improve the mix and upgrade in certain areas. With the emergence of Jeff Petry, in addition to Ladislav Smid's career season and a Corey Potter extension, the Oilers had a glut of puck-movers and not much else in regards to a defensive specialist.
"I spoke to Steve Yzerman today and he wanted to talk a little bit about [Schultz]," Tambellini said. "He had him at the 2007 World Championship and he said, 'If you're looking for a pro that's ready and you can count on in various situations, that's your guy and he won't let you down.' He had a lot of time for him. That's a great comment from someone that I respect in this game a lot, about a player that I'm looking forward to being a part of this group.
"His compete level is hard, he's a matchup guy that plays against a lot of the top lines that he was facing while he was in Minnesota. For a coach, he's someone that's very consistent and, as you've heard today from his former teammates, they look at him as a warrior-type guy."
Schultz is a reliable, defensively-responsible rearguard that prides himself on playing a simple game. Along with an intimidating, big-body presence that makes him difficult to play against, Schultz wore the alternate captain's ‘A' in Minnesota with pride; leadership, no doubt, which he picked up during his humble small-town upbringing.
"It's in my nature to go out, work hard and try to be a leader," he said. "It's the way I was brought up. My dad was a farmer and we were all in a hard-working situation. I've been lucky enough to have my dad being that great example, but I've also been able to pick up some things from some of my great teammates and past leaders that I've played under. I've tried to build on that, and I believe it's helped me become a more complete player because of it."
The attitude, leadership, on-ice commitment and much-needed skill-set will most certainly be a welcomed addition to the Oilers' rebuild. His CFL allegiances, however, may not be as endearing to Oil Country's Green and Gold Empire.
"Oh yeah, absolutely," he said, not hiding his passion for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. "Everybody's a die-hard. I think growing up, our family had season tickets for about nine years. It was a tradition and, in Saskatchewan, it's a big part of the culture. I'm really looking forward to being closer to the CFL action now."