TORONTO – A trade prompted Colton Orr to make the most embarrassing mistake of his career. He had just been moved to Regina from Kamloops, his junior hockey team, and the bruising forward responded by engaging in an on-ice fight the first time he visited his old arena.
He fought and went to the penalty box, an area with which he had developed an intimate familiarity. The only problem was, it was the home team’s penalty box, and Orr was suddenly drawing laughs as a misplaced visitor.
“They didn’t really notice, either, for a couple of seconds,” Orr said, chuckling after the Toronto Maple Leafs finished practice on Monday. “It looked pretty normal to me.”
Trades are a normal part of doing business in hockey, but they can still play a disruptive role in the lives of those moved, a fact weighing heavily on several veterans in Toronto’s dressing room. Changes are expected before the NHL’s trade deadline passes at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and the Leafs are shrouded in speculation.
Forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, one of the first players off the ice on Monday, is the Maple Leaf most often rumoured to be on the move. Fellow forwards Lee Stempniak and Wayne Primeau have also become grist for the rumour mill as the last-place team in the Eastern Conference seeks to rebuild.
Toronto general manager Brian Burke has already been busy. He executed a series of moves before the Olympic roster freeze, acquiring defenceman Dion Phaneuf from Calgary and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Anaheim.
The Leafs are one in a small cluster of teams rumoured to become sellers at the league’s annual bazaar. Carolina, Columbus, Edmonton and Florida are also expected to be busy – and they’d better be, with TSN announcing it will carry 10 hours of live coverage beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday.
“There’s always guys who are worried about being traded, especially on a losing team, where you know that they might clean the house and start from scratch,” Giguere said. “It’s not a fun feeling. I’m sure some of the guys right now, especially the guys with families, they’re probably not sleeping very well.”
Toronto acquired Giguere on Jan. 31, as the Anaheim Ducks were coming off a two-week road trip. Giguere packed what he needed and left his family on the other side of the continent. He ended up going almost four weeks without seeing his wife and children.
“We’re making good money and it’s part of our job,” Giguere said. “We’ve just got to accept it and move on.”
Having experience as a commodity does not always made a trade easier, though. Primeau was running a hockey camp when he found out he had been traded to Toronto last summer, leaving the ice to an inbox filled with urgent phone messages.
“I’ve been traded at night when my kids are sleeping,” Primeau said. “I’ve had to leave early in the morning and they wonder where there dad is – and my wife has to tell them ‘he’s been moved.”‘
Toronto entered the Olympic break on a two-game losing streak. The Leafs, who resume the schedule at home against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday, sit only five points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for last place overall in the NHL standings.
Defenceman Tomas Kaberle could become one of the biggest assets on the market, but the 31-year-old has made it clear he does not plan to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. And Burke has gone on record saying he will not ask the player to waive a clause he had earned.
Ponikarovsky, Stempniak and Primeau are all set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Expiring contracts can carry a certain allure in the salary cap world.
Primeau said he has no indication of what might happen over the next couple of days. He will just do what he always does: wait and watch television, just like everyone else.
“It’s only natural to have a little bit of butterflies, a feeling of emotion to know that could happen,” he said. “It’s not in my hands, so there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve just got to worry about being a Maple Leaf right now and, hopefully, continuing to be a Leaf for the rest of the year.”