Although Monday’s trade deadline day was one of the quieter (and most painfully boring) in recent memory, the lives of the players who were dealt will be deeply affected. Many moved from pretending teams to contending teams (and vice-versa) and therefore drastically increased or decreased their chances of winning the Stanley Cup this season.
As we’ve come to learn amidst all the hype of deadline day, there is a considerable adjustment period for the players who change teams. Fitting into their new club’s on-ice system and dressing room dynamic is one thing, but becoming comfortable in, and familiar with, a new city and pace of life is another altogether. Often it is the latter that can affect a player’s performance after his trade. Here’s a look at three notables to keep your eye on during the stretch drive:
• Brooks Laich (Capitals to Maple Leafs)
Yes, hockey is a business and there is no room for sentimentality when you’re talking about million-dollar contracts, but you’ve got to feel for Brooks Laich. The 32-year old consummate professional was dealt from the NHL-leading Washington Capitals to the basement-dwelling Toronto Maple Leafs, essentially robbing him of a very strong chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Laich had been with the Capitals organization for 12 seasons and was respected by fans, media and teammates alike. He was part of the bigger picture: On a team with bonafide stars he didn’t necessarily have to answer for every loss.
But the move to Toronto means a total change of pace for Laich. First, he’ll be shuffled into a lineup full of young, emerging talent and, given his experience in the NHL, will be expected to provide leadership to this young core. This is particularly tough given the Leafs’ current rebuilding stage. His daily assignments will change and so too will his expectations. Even though the intensity of the constant media attention that the Leafs face daily in Toronto has subsided a bit with coach Mike Babcock’s frequent statements that this season and next are likely to be a painful part of the growing process, Laich will have to answer pointed post-game questions much more often than he had in Washington.
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• Jamie McGinn (Sabres to Ducks)
Speaking of radical shifts in the standings, 27-year old winger Jamie McGinn will surely welcome his move from the Eastern Conference basement to the league’s elite. He’s going to a Ducks team that could end up contending for the Stanley Cup. For a player who has spent the last five seasons playing in frigid Buffalo and Denver, the sunny shores of the Pacific Ocean will be a pleasant change.
Every player is different and can respond to different climates in different ways, but the relaxed pace of life in California should benefit McGinn. Many workers perform better when they are happier, and while McGinn’s 27 points through 63 games with the lowly Sabres look good, you have to imagine his performance will only improve on the ice now that he truly has a legitimate shot at the championship.
• Eric Staal (Hurricanes to Rangers)
For the past 10 seasons, Eric Staal has been the face of the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s near the top in most of the franchise record categories and was one of the main reasons why the Hurricanes traded the eighth pick in the 2012 entry draft (which ended up being turned into Derrick Pouliot, one of the best young emerging defensemen in the game) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Staal’s brother Jordan. If the Hurricanes were going to sneak into the playoffs this season, it was going to be with Eric in the lineup.
But it wasn’t meant to be, as Staal was shipped to the New York Rangers on Sunday. The former Hurricanes captain joins an aging group of Rangers, including Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle, that is desperate to win the Stanley Cup before its window closes. Under the bright lights of Broadway, Staal will play more of a supporting role than he did with Carolina. That’s not a knock on this former Stanley Cup winner. But anytime you spend your entire career with one franchise you develop roots in the community. As a player on an expiring contract brought in for a short amount of time, Staal is the definition of a rental player. Moving is tough for anyone and how he performs in his new, temporary location is still to be determined. Surely having younger brother Marc around will help, but he likely won’t be the Eric Staal we’ve long thought of as being synonymous with Carolina.