At 38-years-old, the aches were starting to linger a little longer. The losses had grown more frequent and increasingly difficult to bear.
Bill Guerin knew he needed a change, but he was too good a captain to request one. He had invested nearly two years into the rebuilding efforts of the New York Islanders, and even though he knew he wouldn't be there to see it through, he remained committed to the team's future.
"We were going in different directions," Guerin said. "The team was trying to get younger and I'm getting older and I want to win."
Islanders General Manager Garth Snow understood the dynamics at work when Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero called and said Guerin might be the perfect complement to superstar Sidney Crosby
When Shero offered a conditional draft pick for Guerin just before the March 4 trade deadline, Snow reluctantly took it, not so much to strengthen the Islanders, but as a reward to Guerin for all he had given his organization the past two years.
Guerin says he could not have landed in a better place, saying the fresh start he's been given in Pittsburgh has been the perfect elixir for an otherwise painful season.
"Without a doubt I feel young again," Guerin said of his transfer from the Eastern Conference's last-place team to one battling to return to the playoffs one year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final. "It's a great feeling to be here and I feel rejuvenated. To be in a playoff race like this is just what I needed."
Of course, playing alongside arguably the best player in the game doesn't hurt. Upon arriving in Pittsburgh on March 4, Guerin was immediately placed on the Penguins' top line with Crosby and newly acquired winger Chris Kunitz
Together, the line produced 8 goals in its first six games together as the Penguins went 4-0-2 following the trade deadline to climb from 10th in the Eastern Conference standings to fifth.
Suddenly, the aches don't hurt as bad. Guerin, always the optimist, is experiencing the joy of winning meaningful games.
"I love it," he said. "We're winning and the line is doing all right, so it can't be all bad."
Having played on some of the best lines in hockey, Guerin said the unit of Crosby, Kunitz and himself reminds him of the success he enjoyed in Edmonton while playing on a line with Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth in the late 1990s.
"We're two grinding wingers," Guerin said of himself and Kunitz, "playing with a heads-up centerman who is also one of the premier players in the League. It's a great opportunity for me."
As a member of the Devils, Oilers, Bruins, Stars, Blues, Sharks and Islanders before arriving in Pittsburgh, Guerin has had the opportunity to play in the postseason in 14 of his 18 NHL seasons. He fully intends to make this No. 15.
"We're good enough to get in," he said. "We have a lot of difficult games ahead of us, but we're definitely capable of getting in and taking another run at it. I couldn't be happier to be a part of it."
Author: Chuck Gormley | NHL.com Correspondent