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When Coyotes defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere addressed reporters after a 6-2 loss to the Nashville Predators at Mullett Arena on Sunday, he offered an unintentional reminder to fans. While most of us are eagerly awaiting the opening of the floodgates and the asset exchange that follows, the NHL’s trade deadline (Friday at 1 p.m. Arizona time) is far more than a series of transactions.
Those transactions involve real lives.
“It’s definitely a stressful situation for my family,” Gostisbehere said. “You pretty much know your life is gonna change in the next five days or so. The hardest part is the unknown; not knowing where you’re gonna go, and obviously we love it here.”
We often hear teams talk about how much they like playing together; so much that it becomes a bit of an eye-rolling cliché. But this group of Coyotes has exceeded low external expectations in great part because the chemistry and vibe of the dressing room is genuinely good.
When the dressing room opened to media after the morning skate at the Ice Den Scottsdale on Tuesday, about a dozen Coyotes were jabbering about the deadline. Some manufactured fictitious trades. Some wondered about the franchise’s unwillingness to take back money in deals. Others optimistically predicted that no Coyotes would be dealt.
It felt like walking into a bar where a large group of old friends had gathered to share laughs, spin tales and razz each other.
“I think the morale in a room can take you a lot farther than skill can, if there’s no morale in that skilled room,” center Nick Bjugstad said. “I’m really, really happy to have been a part of this group. If anything happens to any of us, we’re all going to keep in touch. It’s been a fun team to be a part of from the coaching staff down.”
If and when the likes of Gostisbehere, Bjugstad, Jakob Chychrun, Nick Schmaltz or Karel Vejmelka get traded this week, there will be plenty of details to sort out. The acquiring teams will take care of a lot of those, but there will still be kids and pets to manage, wives or significant others to factor into the equation, new living arrangements to be found and myriad other details that the average fan does not consider when a player gets traded.
When the Penguins acquired Bjugstad about a month before the 2019 deadline, it came out of the blue; completely unexpected.
“I’d almost rather have it unexpected where it comes out of nowhere and you aren’t thinking about it for a long time like this situation,” Bjugstad said. “But it’s crazy how fast things move sometimes where you don’t really even get to say goodbye to guys if they do get traded. You just have to try to cherish the moments you have with them.”
Precedent is no help in dealing with a trade, either. The Blackhawks traded Nick Schmaltz to the Coyotes in November 2018, but that experience doesn’t ease the angst he feels when rumors start swirling again.
“Guys don’t know where they’re gonna wake up the next day so it’s hard to keep playing when you know that guys are on their way out,” Schmaltz said. “You try to keep playing and focus on one day at a time; not look at anything because with the rumors that are flying out there, you never know what’s true and what to believe. But it’s hard to focus on the present and stay in the moment. It’s not fun for anybody.”
The Coyotes have had their share of tough trades. Daniel Brière sobbed outside the team bus when the Coyotes traded him to Buffalo in 2003. Arizona traded Derek Stepan to Ottawa 17 days before 2021 training camp began. His wife, Stephanie, was due to give birth to the couple’s third child any day, and Stepan had to manage living across an international border while COVID-19 restrictions were still in effect.
While those are extreme examples, most trades take their toll on a team, both in morale and in their play.
“We can feel it in our team right now,” coach André Tourigny said after Sunday’s game.
“You’re a hockey player second. You’re a human being first. It’s not an easy situation. We are professional, we need to live with that, but if I could move the trade deadline to tomorrow I would.”
Top photo of Shayne Gostisbehere via Getty Images