February 10, 2011
There are certain things you just never want to see. Bob McKenzie in lingerie. Your younger sister at your team hockey party. Or worse, your general manager's name pop up on your call display in February.
You'd be hard pressed to find a GM who would call from his single bed, twirl the cord on his rotary phone and ask how yourrrr day was. Don't rule it out, as there are rumours that Pierre McGuire may become a GM someday. I'm just saying, it's not all that likely.
Around this time of year, players who are content with their playing situation would agree: no news is good news.
But the late night phone call is just one of the ways you can find yourself shipped out of town, and actually, it might be one of the less painful ways for it to happen. At least there's no face to face, so you're free to build an immediate bonfire of all your team memorabilia.
GM, 7:45pm phone call: "Well, I guess I'll just cut right to the chase here, and, uh..."
Player: *strikes a match*
For my money, getting pulled off the ice mid-practice is far worse. Most GMs linger around the rink occasionally, but in February, it's not a sight you want to see. You know at any minute your trainer may lean out onto the ice with a "Burkie wants to see you." And just like that, you're commencing the slow walk to the dressing room, down the plank. You can't even set fire to a wet practice jersey.
When you're told you've been traded, you process a life change in a moment.
Do I have friends on that new team, is the city nice, where are they in the standings, will I get more ice time? It's just a lot to take in, especially from a person you want to tell to take a nap under your back tires.
It's certainly no easier when they give you the info while your team is on the road. There's just something awkward about not even being at home with your stuff and having to report somewhere new. And teams in the minors will straight up tell you:
gonna be headed to Elmira tonight to meet your new team for their game tomorrow.
We'll have your roommate put your stuff in boxes and we'll ship it out to you ..."
(Minor league teams are, collectively, dicks. You know player leverage is absolute zero on the Kelvin scale when "I'm not reporting" is met with "m'kay," because they can find someone else in a heartbeat.)
NHL trades are obviously more involved, what with there being things like "real estate," and "families" involved, but that doesn't mean GMs are suddenly sympathetic and loving. It's team first at every level of pro sports, and that cutthroat nature still exists.
After hundreds of games played and with four Stanley Cups won and with point totals like 93 and 100, John Tonelli was traded from the New York Islanders to the Calgary Flames. That wouldn't be the biggest deal in the world had they not made the move on the day of the game ... against Calgary. They essentially asked him to walk down to the other dressing room when he showed up that night.
Yeah, just suit up against all your friends that are on that team you represented for the better part of a decade, okay?
No. Not okay. Tonelli didn't play that night.
Because he's sane.
Even that's a step worse than what I witnessed after a long road trip. As we pulled into our home city after a weeklong road trip -- what a relief -- coach called a player up to the front of the bus. This happens periodically on a hockey team, whether it be to discuss a play, a game, or some personal matter. But lo, this one was to inform of a trade.
As we unpacked our bags in the dressing room in the early morning hours, this player grabbed whatever was left of his stall, and emptied out the contents of his team bag into a garbage bag (a common move for minor league trades), so the team could keep his bag.
Everyone seeing the dreaded garbage bag had to ask what was up; they couldn't ignore it.
So there he is with 20 teammates staring at him, trying to figure out what the hell is going on and trying to mine the guy for information while his life's been, to quote Will Smith, flipped turned upside down.
How fair is that?
But the reality is, that's the life. There's no nice way to do it, I'm just biased to how rough the initial day of the trade can be, having been through it.
Maybe someday I'll be on the GM side of it, making my team better for the community, for my livelihood, confident in my decisions. Who knows?
Until then, trades will always make me cringe.