WASHINGTON —Before he was a three-time Stanley Cup champion, before he was an alternate captain, before he was locked in to a massive eight-year contract, Brent Seabrook was just another chip. Trade bait. Twisting in the wind every February, wondering if he’d get to stick around Chicago and finish what he started.
“Early in my career, I was involved in a lot of rumors,” Seabrook said. “You just try to block it out the best you can.”
Of course, that was in the days before social media took every molehill of speculation and turned it into a mountain of hot takes —a thought becoming a rumor becoming a proposal becoming an inevitability becoming, more often than not, nothing in the end. The days and weeks leading up to the annual NHL trade deadline are a harrowing mess of misinformation and speculation that few players can escape. Seabrook’s one of the lucky ones now. He’s an untouchable. But not everybody is so fortunate. And until that Feb. 29 deadline comes and goes, only the lucky few feel totally safe.
Andrew Desjardins learned that last March 2, when he was traded by San Jose to the Blackhawks for Ben Smith just hours before the deadline.
“You always know the deadline’s coming, so you try to prepare yourself,” Desjardins said. “The more years I’ve been in this league the more you see guys coming in and out. It’s definitely a time of year where you’re just prepared for anything. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Desjardins had an inkling he might get traded last spring, but as the deadline neared on March 2, he figured he was sticking around. Then, suddenly, he was sent halfway across the continent and thrust into a Stanley Cup run. Exciting, yes. “Shocking,” though, too, he said.
Perennial contenders such as the Hawks are usually looking to add, not subtract, at the deadline, so the veterans usually don’t sweat it. But for role players, fringe players, players on expiring or unwieldy contracts, and players in Rockford, the next 10 days will be stomach-churning. If the Hawks manage to land the top-line left wing they’re seeking —someone like Andrew Ladd, Mikkel Boedker, Kris Versteeg or Loui Ericsson —they’ll likely have to give up some young talent, because they’ve already dealt away this year’s second-round pick (for Kimmo Timonen last spring), as well as extra fourth- and fifth-rounders. So perhaps nobody currently in Rockford is safe.
“It’s a nervous time in Rockford,” said Phil Danault, who saw several IceHogs teammates traded over the last two seasons. “Lot of guys get traded. I wasn’t that nervous about getting traded, though. I knew the Hawks liked me a lot, and I liked them a lot, too. It’s a good fit.”
Most Hawks claim to stay away from the relentless speculation, and some avoid Twitter entirely this time of year. But it’s unavoidable. Players are bound to see a story in the daily press clippings, or stumble on to a column online, or catch some intermission chatter during a television broadcast.
“You hear about that stuff,” said Jonathan Toews, who’s never been linked to a trade in his life, but who has seen plenty of teammates come and go. “If there’s anything worth your attention, it’ll get to you at some point. Other than, you don’t want to read into some things too much.”
Obviously, everyone on the Hawks roster wants to stay on the Hawks roster. One Hawks player spoke anonymously about the “horror” of being sent from the league’s top franchise to some bottom-feeding team in some far-flung town. But there’s also a firm belief in the dressing room that general manager Stan Bowman deserves the benefit of the doubt. While not every trade he’s made has been a success (David Rundblad in 2014, Timonen last spring), things usually work out for the Hawks this time of year.
“The trade deadline’s a tough time of year,” Seabrook said. “But Stan’s always working and always trying to make our team better. I don’t know what he has in store this year, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”