The trade that brought left wing Martin Erat to Washington was officially consummated late Wednesday afternoon. Before 10 a.m. this morning, Erat was on the Kettler Capitals Iceplex sheet skating with his new teammates.
That’s how life can be for an NHL player at the trade deadline. Here today, gone tomorrow. Family there, player here.
In Erat’s case, the transition might not be as jarring as for some. The 11-year veteran had requested a trade, so yesterday’s deal did not catch him by surprise. Even so, he had less than 24 hours to move his life from one location to another hundreds of miles away.
Meanwhile, Erat’s wife and family remain in Tennessee, at least for now, with now firm plans for when they’ll join him in the District.
“We have a couple games on the road right now and a lot of games right now,” says Erat. “We’ll see how everything goes and when they can join me.”
Regardless of whether you ask to be traded or not, and whether you see it coming or not, an NHL player dealt in the middle of a campaign is expected to get his act together quickly and show up promptly in his new city.
And then – especially when a highly regarded prospect has been dealt in the other direction for him – he is expected to produce and to produce immediately, especially when the team that obtained him still hasn’t solidified its position in the postseason picture.
Some 11 years ago, Caps defenseman Tom Poti was dealt from Edmonton to the New York Rangers. Later that same afternoon, Caps coach Adam Oates was traded from Washington to Philadelphia.
There are many similarities and some differences in the situations of players being dealt at the trade deadline. How many times you’ve been through it, whether you saw it coming or not, and whether you have a family or not are just a few of them.
“I was excited to get traded,” recalls Poti of the March 19, 2002 deal that sent him to Broadway. “Things weren’t going that well in Edmonton and it was nice to get a fresh start and get out of there. I remember at the trade deadline, it was like 2 o’clock local time or something like that, and I hadn’t heard anything so I was a little bit bummed. I was kind of hoping to get moved. I think around 2:15 or 2:20 I finally got the call. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the trades to go through after the deadline. I was excited and looking forward to getting a fresh start in New York and going to play in the States.”
In Poti’s case, the general manager that drafted him in Edmonton (Glen Sather) had moved on to New York as the Rangers’ GM.
“[Sather] drafted me in Edmonton and he was in New York when they traded for me,” says Poti. “He knew my game and knew what I brought to the table and things like that. So it was nice to be able to go in and be comfortable with a GM like that. It was also an extra special bonus to move closer to home. I think I was in the furthest possible place away from home in Edmonton, so it was nice to kind of come home.”
There may not be two more different NHL locations than Edmonton and New York City.
“It was definitely a little culture shock,” admits Poti. “I liked it up in Edmonton. There are nice people up there and we had a good team, and a lot of good guys on the team that I made friends with and stuff like that. But once in a while you do need a change and it’s nice to get a fresh start. It worked out for me.”
As a young kid without a family, it was easier for Poti to pick up and go than it will be for Erat.
“For me, back then I was a single young kid,” Poti notes. “For me at the time, it was a smooth transition. I just packed my suitcase and moved into a hotel. It’s always a little harder when you get traded and you have a wife and kids and you have to deal with living arrangements for them.”
Like Erat, Oates had asked for a trade. He later reconsidered and rescinded the request, but the Caps were out of the playoff hunt and the Flyers lost a pair of centers – Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau – to injury the night before the deadline, forcing Philly’s hand.
“There were a lot of rumors at the time and we weren’t in the playoffs,” recalls Oates, “so I kind of expected it. You have mixed emotions. I kind of didn’t want to go, but then you think you’ll get a little breath of fresh air maybe. But at that particular time I really didn’t want to go. The year before I asked George to trade me, but then I wanted to stay. It happened right at the last minute, and I got traded to Philly. Like I say, it was a lot of mixed emotions.”
Most people in most walks of life have a much longer grace period in integrating themselves in to a new job and a new workplace, but such is not the case for hockey players. Especially hockey players traded at the deadline, which is mere weeks before the playoffs.
“That’s what makes it difficult,” says Oates. “Not everybody has the personality to walk into another locker room and feel comfortable. I’m not one of those guys. Some guys have that quality. You don’t always find your game right away because you need chemistry. It depends on what they ask from you. It makes it difficult. For me, it was a difficult transition in Philly.”
As one of those guys who didn’t always immediately feel at ease moving into a new locker room, Oates was and is conscious of the mindsets of other newcomers
“You always know it’s tough,” says the Caps coach. “It doesn’t always work; sometimes it works. You’re trying to add a piece. But you know when guys are coming in they are feeling some pressure so you try to make it easy on them.”
Ex-Caps general manager and current Nashville GM David Poile spent nearly a decade and a half in the same post in Washington. He engineered the deals that brought Oates and Caps assistant coach Calle Johansson to the District as players, and he made the deal that sent Erat to Washington on Wednesday.
The March 7, 1989 deal (Johansson and a 2nd rounder for Clint Malarchuk, Grant Ledyard and a 6th rounder) that brought Johansson to the District remains one of the best deadline day deals in Caps’ franchise history.
“I didn’t see it coming,” remembers Johansson. “I was injured in the beginning of the year. I didn’t have a great year. Second year it was like a sophomore jinx or whatever you want to call it, and I didn’t play very well. But I didn’t see it coming.
“I got a phone call from the [Sabres] general manager, who was Gerry Meehan at the time. He just said, ‘We’ve decided to trade you to Washington. We’re sad to see you go, you’ve been great. You’ve got to give up something good to get something good. We thank you for everything, you’re going to go on the plane tonight and play in Montreal tomorrow.’
“So I had like five hours to pack and do everything. I was 21, 22 years old. It was tough, but I came to a great team and a great organization. David Poile, the GM at the time here, he was great to me and especially to my wife who was all alone there then. It was a bad experience but it turned out to be a great one.”
Johansson says that being on the ice is a refuge when you’re in a new location, and playing the game helps ease you into the rest of the routine.
“It’s tough, it’s definitely tough,” says the Caps assistant and the team’s all-time leader in games played. “But the only thing you can do is play your game. You can only do what you do best out there. You’re always nervous before you put the gear on and you step out onto the ice. But I think once you step onto the ice, it’s like nothing happened.
“Everybody is in the same boat. All the players have been down that road and they know what is going on. They have a tendency to take care of the new guys. I think it’s a good thing.”Posted in: Sports