Evander Kane was baffled. “What is going on here?” he wondered, eyes darting around the rink at San Jose’s SAP Center. “I’ve never seen this before.”
This was February 2018. Fresh off a cross-country flight, Kane was eager for his Sharks debut after joining the team from Buffalo at the trade deadline. Just one problem: As pregame warmups progressed that night, Kane quickly realized that he had no idea what to do next.
See, every NHL team follows line rushes by running a half-moon shooting drill, whereby players stand in a semicircle near the blue line and take turns firing pucks, usually with one designated passer dishing near the net. “The way San Jose did it, which was new to me in all my years of hockey, was this whole shoot-and-pass rotation. That was definitely hard to figure out,” Kane recalls. “So the next game, I had to have a chitchat and say, ‘Okay, where am I going to be in this? I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing.’”
No one will dispute that warming up ranks way down on the list of concerns for any midseason acquisition. Certainly it is much less pressing than, oh, finding a new place to live or new schools for the kids. But those 17-ish minutes also serve as an exercise in choreographed chaos, each skater whizzing around conducting personal exercises, like an ant colony on Red Bull when viewed from above. Down below, it can seem just as daunting to the new guy.
“We have a lot of people who say they’re not very superstitious and won’t admit it, but they go about their business the same way,” says Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon, who came over from Dallas in November 2014. “Even when it’s getting the puck at the same time on the ice, or going to certain areas. So you have guys bumping into each other. And for the next 82 games, you’re going to realize that Joe Pavelski always goes here and Brent Burns always does this.”
“You’re just trying to fit in, right?” says Columbus defenseman Seth Jones. “Well, honestly, you’re trying to stay out of everyone’s way.”
Ryan Johansen remembers the feeling. He was dealt for Jones in a one-for-one swap between the Blue Jackets and Predators on Jan. 6, 2016. Two nights later, Johansen hit the ice with his new teammates in Colorado. “Took a few more steps back when I was stretching,” he says. “It definitely takes more than a game to adjust to how your new team has their routines.”
One spot below Johansen on the Predators’ center depth chart, Kyle Turris took additional measures to safeguard against such confusion. Upon joining Nashville in a three-team trade in November 2017, he asked around the locker room to learn about specific warmup practices. “Right down to the order that they shoot on the three-man, to the order on the two-on-ones, everything is already set,” Turris says. “Just tried to sit back, see where the openings are, where to fit in. Everyone is really good about it. But you don’t want to mess up anyone else’s program.”
Now that he has logged more than 100 regular-season games for the Predators, Turris has the various intricacies down pat. Those two-on-ones happen fast; he always follows winger Filip Forsberg. In the three-man shooting drill, meanwhile, defenseman P.K. Subban typically takes the first attempt and then quickly loops around for a second rep. “So you’ve got to watch out for that,” says Turris. “It’s not like it’s hard. It’s just a funny thing that no one thinks of.”
Indeed, Matt Duchene chuckles when asked about moving to the Senators in the same deal as Turris. The center proclaims to possess an especially meticulous warmup routine, which he describes as “almost to the point of ridiculousness because it’s so choreographed.” When he played for the Avalanche, Duchene always served as the passer for certain team drills. But the job was already filled in Ottawa. “It threw me off,” says Duchene, who may very well find himself on the move again before next week's deadline. “But you adjust.”
Alternatively, there is the Sam Gagner approach. Around noon last Saturday, the 29-year-old forward learned that he had been acquired by Edmonton while on a minor-league road trip in Providence, R.I. By 1 p.m., Gagner had called an Uber to Brooklyn, where a freshly stitched sweater awaited his arrival for that night’s tilt against the Islanders. Less than five hours later, Gagner looped through the neutral zone as the pregame clock ticked down, passing pucks to himself off the dasher boards, loosening his legs with hard cuts and sharp stops.
From afar it looked as though he might have been staying back on purpose, dipping his toes into the warmups waters before taking the full plunge. But Gagner had faced this challenge before—the Oilers are his fifth team in five seasons—and found an easy solution. “That’s just my routine,” Gagner said later. “It doesn’t change. I tend to run into guys a lot too, just all over the place. But I stick to my routine.”