NHL GMs share the emotions of swinging a big trade: 'It can be a crazy time'
Don Waddell once traded a good friend.
It was March 2002 and his lowly Atlanta Thrashers were sitting last in the NHL standings with a paltry 46 points from 70 games.
The St. Louis Blues were looking to load up before the playoffs and keyed in on Waddell's captain — 37-year-old forward Ray Ferraro.
Making that deal wasn't easy for Atlanta's general manager. It was also necessary.
"You've got to make a trade in your heart (you believe) is helping your hockey team," Waddell, now GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, said more than two decades later. "You're never making a trade to hurt anybody.
"It doesn't matter who you're trading. If you truly believe it's going to make your hockey club better, you have to do it."
With this year's NHL trade deadline now in the rear-view mirror, following two weeks of chaos that involved a number of big names switching jerseys prior to an anti-climactic final act, GMs can now take a breath.
So what's that feeling like when a trade — especially a big one — is finally confirmed, the paperwork's filed, and players on the move have been informed?
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas was one of the league's busiest leading into this year's deadline, reworking a quarter of his roster via trade, including the acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly from the St. Louis Blues, as the franchise looks to finally break through in the playoffs.
"A bit of relief when it's all done," Dubas said. "There have been times when I was the assistant GM and then now — this is my ninth year going through this — where you have a little bit of apprehension that things may not get across (the line) or they don't.
"That's not a good feeling."
Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said until the deadline passes every year, there isn't much time to reflect.
"You feel like, 'OK, what's next?'" he said. "It can be a crazy time."
The Ottawa Senators pulled off one of the bigger surprises by acquiring coveted defenceman Jakob Chychrun from the Arizona Coyotes.
"A lot of handshaking — we did something good for the organization," Senators GM Pierre Dorion said of the immediate aftermath with his management team. "You know you're getting a player that's going to help you."
He added the weeks ahead of the deadline as the calendar flips to the schedule's final stretch is every manager's favourite part of the job.
"A lot of other times, people don't realize that we're not doing hockey," Dorion said of a GM's workload. "We're doing so many more things that's administrative, budgets, planning meetings.
"One of the most fun days of the year, especially when you're a buyer."
Waddell, however, added it can also be an emotional time.
"There's some very hard conversations," he said. "Some sleepless nights knowing that you're going to have to talk to a player about uprooting his family, moving to a new city.
"It goes with the job and you take it hard, but you know you're doing the right thing for the organization."
And there's a sense of accomplishment — at least for a few minutes.
"As soon you get something done, it frankly turns to anxiety about how it's all going to fit together and work," Dubas said. "Then you get to deal with that.
"It never really ends."
Oilers captain Connor McDavid continues to raise the bar with assassin-like efficiency.
Edmonton's talismanic talent set a career-high for points (124) in just his 65th game of the season Monday to go along with the career-best 54 goals he's already bagged.
McDavid is on pace for 156 points in 2022-23, which would be the most in a single campaign in league history by a player not named Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.
The superstar passed The Great One on a different stats page recently by registering his 58th power-play point, which unseated Gretzky for the top single-season total in Oilers' history.
Speaking of smashing through expectations, McDavid and the Oilers get their second look at the league-best Bruins in two weeks on Thursday.
Boston, which has won 10 straight games, enters with a 49-8-5 record — good for a 136-point pace.
That total would push these Bruins past the 132 points earned by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens in an 80-game season that didn't include overtime or shootouts.
Calgary is in tough to make the playoffs after winning the Pacific Division with 111 points in 2021-22.
The Flames, however, have shown a bit of life this week.
Calgary headed to Dallas on Monday just 0-3-2 over its last five games, and 3-6-4 over the previous 13, but picked up a 5-4 victory against the Stars before gutting out Tuesday's 1-0 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild.
Heading into Wednesday, the Flames sat four points back of the Winnipeg Jets, who had a game in hand, for the Western Conference's second wildcard spot.
-With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith, Judy Owen and Lisa Wallace.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press