It was wedding week at his summer cottage and Sam Gagner was busy getting ready. Relatives were arriving. Friends needed directions. His future wife Rachel had already handled most of the logistics for the ceremony and reception—including an extravagant Great Gatsby-themed boat cruise around Lake Muskoka—but a few final tasks remained. “Just making sure that everything was all settled,” Gagner says.
Then his cellphone buzzed. Again and again and again.
Whether summer or midseason, surprising or presupposed, trades always create chaos. A new city, a new team, a new life awaits on the other side, both for players and their families. But as Gagner checked dozens of new voicemails and texts on June 29, 2014, the forward was unwittingly welcomed into a unique club. “Just being traded once would’ve been enough for me,” Gagner says. “For it to happen twice in one day was definitely a weird experience, a roller coaster of emotions.”
The latest indoctrinate arrived Sunday when Nashville acquired Mark Letestu from Edmonton and then swiftly flipped him to Columbus, less than 24 hours before Monday’s trade deadline. Defenseman Mark Streit spent roughly one hour as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning before heading to Pittsburgh in a separate swap last March. Blueliner Victor Bartley experienced a double-deal day in Jan. 2016 (Predators to Coyotes, Coyotes to Canadiens), as did winger Marty McInnis in Oct. 1998 (Flames to Blackhawks, Blackhawks to Ducks). Of course, no mention of multiple moves would be complete without Mike “Suitcase” Sillinger, the most traded player in league history, who went from Columbus to Dallas to Phoenix on July 22, 2003.
“I got the call from Vancouver, saying you were moved to Winnipeg,” says retired forward Brent Ashton, recalling July 15, 1981. “Next thing I knew, I was getting a call from Colorado. Things out of your control, right? You just roll with the punches. It’s a whirlwind day, period.”
Luckily for those involved, NHL news travels fast. No one has been airborne, bound for one particular city, when the second trade goes down and an entirely new destination beckons upon landing. In fact, most of these bang-bang moves happen behind the scenes, absent of the particular player’s knowledge. On Feb. 1, 1971, Maple Leafs forward Mike “Shakey” Walton was relaxing at a ski chalet near Toronto, away from the team over a dispute about playing time. The landline rang. It was someone claiming to work for the Bruins.
“I thought it was a joke, so I hung up,” Walton says. “About five minutes later, I got another call and he says, ‘Shake, don’t hang up, don’t hang up. It’s Uncle Milty.” As Boston’s general manager, Milt Schmidt was letting Walton know that the Bruins had acquired him through Philadelphia, because the Maple Leafs refused to swap him directly to a divisional rival. “It was all pre-arranged before the call was made,” Walton says. “So Philly, I was just passing through.”
Almost a quarter-century later, Claude Lemieux was getting dental work done on four dislodged front teeth, the nasty result of a high stick taken during the ’94–95 playoffs with the Devils. A contract dispute had ensured Lemieux’s inevitable departure from New Jersey, but the winger wasn’t entirely sure where he was headed. “It happened quickly,” he recalls. “It’s not like I was traded to the Islanders and became a member of the organization for a day and then traded later to Colorado. It was quick. It just felt like I got traded straight-up.
“But even if you know you’re going to get traded, there’s still a lot going on in your head. You don’t know when and where. I’d just gotten married. My wife had a couple little businesses in New York City. You’re never prepared.”
Gagner can relate. A dozen extended family members had already arrived for the wedding when he retreated into the cottage with Rachel and his parents to sort through what was happening. At first, Gagner only heard that Edmonton had traded him to the Lightning. “There was a split second where it’s like, O.K., maybe I can convince Tampa to keep me,” he says. “It’d be a nice place to play, and at the time they were on the cusp of doing some really good things. But when I knew that wasn’t a possibility, they just didn’t have the cap space, it’s like O.K., you try to get your agent involved to hopefully steer you to a team that’s a good fit.”
So Gagner waited, thrust into trade limbo, stressing over his ultimate destination. Hockey is a business, everyone says, but mantras don’t make moving any easier. Minutes felt like months. At last, word washed onto the lake shores: Gagner to Arizona, via Tampa Bay, summarized by Roberto Luongo’s tweet of an igloo emoji, followed by a palm tree and finally a cactus.
Like Streit last spring, Gagner only joined the Lightning for several hours before moving elsewhere. But the experience left a lasting impression. When the Coyotes later visited Tampa Bay during the 2014–15 season, teammates coaxed Gagner into putting money on the board—a bet of sorts traditionally foisted upon players facing their former teams.
“I was expecting a tribute video too,” Gagner says. “When it didn’t come, it upset me a little bit. But I’ll move on."