May 5, 2014

NHL trades mean upheaval for AHL lives

By Mike Miccoli

For James Livingston, the NHL trade deadline meant a move to Manchester after playing his entire pro career in Worcester. (Photo/Blake Gumprecht)

Every season, networks devote hours to it, but that’s nothing. Speculation usually begins a month prior, and every day until it passes, that’s almost all you’ll hear about. As exciting as the NHL trade deadline can be for hockey fans, it’s almost the opposite for the players, the ones who are actually impacted by what could be a sudden swap.

Still, the trade deadline gets the hype annually. Fans crave the insider information on players who could potentially be that missing piece to get their team to the championship. It seems like everyone’s a target, too — upcoming free agents, good players on struggling teams and top prospects. In a sense, it’s a little outlandish, yet it reveals that while hockey is a game, it’s still a business — a fact that the players know all too well.

The Los Angeles Kings were one of the more active teams on the NHL trade deadline day of March 5. The Kings organization was a part of three of the 20 trades, including the final deal of the day where L.A. acquired James Livingston, formerly of the Worcester Sharks, for a conditional 2016 seventh-round draft pick.

“Everyone knows that there’s this possibility where your whole life can be uprooted,” Livingston said. “You can move, and you say goodbye to your friends within the afternoon. I heard at 4:30 p.m. and I left Worcester at 8 that evening to come to Manchester.”

Livingston, a third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2008, had played his entire career with the Worcester Sharks, tallying four goals and 11 assists in 53 games this season before making the move to the somewhat familiar division rival Monarchs.

“It was an easy transition,” said Livingston, who registered two goals and an assist in his first five games with the Monarchs. “I played against a lot of the players and I had a good idea on how Manchester played. (Monarchs coach) Mark Morris was quick to throw me into a lot of different situations, so I had to figure out the subtle differences between the two systems, but I feel like I adjusted pretty well.”

Livingston said he found out past the 3 p.m. trade deadline that he was traded. While he wasn’t near his phone at the time, the voicemail from San Jose Sharks assistant general manager Joe Will tipped him off.

“He said it was going to be a better situation for myself,” said Livingston. “I knew that they had a lot of bodies in Worcester at the time, so it was good that it benefited both parties. I was really excited going to a team that had won the (Stanley) Cup a few years ago, and on top of that, a first-place team here in Manchester with a playoff opportunity, which I haven’t had yet.”

While trades can come at any time, it’s easy to catch a player off guard, especially one that may fly under the radar. “I was very surprised,” said Livingston. “I wasn’t expecting it. I hadn’t heard anything that made me think I was going to be traded, and I hadn’t asked for a trade.”

The trade deadline depicts the “ready for anything” attitude that all athletes, not just hockey players, must embrace. Aside from the blockbuster trade for Marian Gaborik, the Kings organization also acquired Brayden McNabb, Jonathan Parker and two second-round draft picks from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers. McNabb reported to Manchester from the Rochester Americans while former mainstay Deslauriers was recalled almost immediately to the NHL.

Similarly to his new teammate and roommate, McNabb had a bit of an unorthodox way of finding out about being traded. His agent had contacted him just before his plane from Chicago took off back to Rochester.

“He told me that I might be getting traded but wasn’t sure,” said McNabb, who spent three seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, including 37 games in the NHL. “It was definitely weird not really knowing in the air, but I had an idea that it would happen and I found out when we landed.

“I had a couple of missed calls from Buffalo and L.A. Kings guys when I had landed, so by then, I kind of figured it out.”

McNabb also has been able to step right in and contribute offensively to an already strong Manchester roster. In his first five games with the Monarchs, McNabb has two assists to go along with his plus-2 rating. He was the highest-scoring defenseman on the Americans, for whom he recorded seven goals and 22 assists in 38 games. His plus-9 was second only to Johan Larsson.

“We have a really good team here and good coaches,” said McNabb. “We’re going to try to make a push here and keep up our first-place play at the end of the season and make the playoffs. It’s always exciting when you get to play on a really good team.”

McNabb’s puck-moving ability as a defenseman is a welcomed signal of help for Manchester, which has seen many of its younger, offensive-minded blueliners progress to Los Angeles. McNabb enters the fray as a top-pairing defenseman.

Still, the trade came as a bit of a surprise to him.

“Every year you go through the trade deadline and you never really think you’re going to be the guy that goes,” said McNabb. “But it’s part of hockey — it happens. Buffalo was great to me, and I had a lot of strong relationships with the guys over the past few years, but I’m excited to start a new journey with the Kings organization.”

In the only other AHL-related trade that happened on the NHL’s trade deadline day, the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Dana Tyrell and Matt Taormina from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Jonathan Marchessault and Dalton Smith. Marchessault had been the leading scorer for the Springfield Falcons, while Smith was on the team’s active roster. Both Tyrell and Taormina reported to Springfield, while Marchessault and Smith reported to the Lightning’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch.

While the NHL gets the mainstream coverage and attention, the AHL has its own trade deadline, seven days following its parent-league’s date. It puts an additional week of edginess around some of the players who, without certain luxuries in the NHL, could be on the move in the minor leagues.

At the AHL trade deadline, a few of the New England teams were active. The Portland Pirates acquired Cade Fairchild from the Chicago Wolves, while the Bridgeport Sound Tigers traded Dallas Jackson in exchange for Jeremy Langlois.

In the final part of the season, both trade deadlines have separate effects on fans and players.

“It’s an interesting time of year, especially on the last day,” said McNabb. “It was definitely interesting because you never know what will happen in this business, so you need to be prepared for anything.”

“It all happens super quickly,” said Livingston. “The transition happened quickly, but it worked out well for me that it was so close and that they were rival teams that I had familiarities with.”


This article originally appeared in the April edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.