TRENTON – In the drop of a hat at 6:30 in the morning of Wednesday, October 5th, David Steckel was on a plane to Toronto, hours away from his first practice with the Leafs.
Trades aren't nearly as simple as packing up an equipment bag, hopping on a plane and driving to a new rink. Quite often in fact, the ice emerges as a singular place of solace amongst a sea of change.
Acquired from the Devils in exchange for a fourth round pick last week, the 29-year-old is now fairly accustomed to the shuffle of being moved in an instant.
Believe it or not, hockey has been the easiest adjustment.
"When you come to a new team right away, the thing that I took comfort in was going in the rink everyday," Steckel told TSN Radio 1050, "hanging out with the guys, having the ability just to go out there, play hockey, pretty much not worry about anything until that second when you step off the ice and then you're running through everything in your head, like 'What about the movers, what about your family?'"
A family man, Steckel is worrying about much more than himself.
Earlier this summer, he and his wife Didi welcomed their first child, Harper, into the world. Steckel is hopeful the pair will arrive in the city this weekend. "Just trying to Skype with them as much as I can," he said, "but that's not working out too well either – it's tough." While they are certainly atop the priority list, his wife and newborn daughter are just a pair of the many tasks to be addressed – all in a matter of days.
Reid Mitchell, the Leafs director of hockey and scouting administration, is the point man in such transitions, supporting and easing newly acquired players in their relocation to Toronto. From moving a family to locating a comfortable neighbourhood to finding a perfect home to picking out a good school to setting up a new bank account to identifying the right minor hockey program – getting traded is far from a simple matter.
"It's moving your house, moving your cars," explained Steckel. "For one, coming here Harper didn't have a passport yet – she's only four months old – so I've got to deal with that, obviously trying to get my wife in [the country] with a working VISA as myself – getting that paperwork when you're not together isn't the easiest – shutting off all the utilities back in Jersey, trying to find somebody to rent our place in Jersey because of our lease.
"It's annoying kind of stuff like that, but at the same token, I think I'd be twice as overwhelmed if I didn't have to do it last year at the deadline to be honest with you."
Drafted in the first round by Los Angeles in 2001, Steckel never made it to the NHL with the Kings. He signed with the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent in 2005, playing in parts of six seasons with Washington before being dealt to the Devils last February – the first trade of his career. For the final months of the year, he and his wife stayed in a local hotel, before finding a home to lease in Jersey shortly after the season concluded.
Then just two days before the 2011-2012 season was set to begin, he was on the move again, this time to Toronto.
"It's easy to try and say 'Don't get overwhelmed'," said Steckel, "but honestly do one thing at a time, try and take care of as many things as you can in a day when you have time and if you get sick of it, that's what tomorrow's for. And have a great wife. Honestly, she's been doing probably about half of the stuff that I should be doing – it makes it easier for me."
Steckel has found his place quickly with the Leafs.
In his debut against Montreal last Thursday, Steckel won 72% of his face-offs (18-25) in a 2-0 Leafs win. He followed that up with a 65% performance (17-26) on the draw two nights later in a 6-5 victory over Ottawa.
"Hockey's fun," he concluded. "When I get on the ice I like to have a lot of fun. When I don't have to think about all the crap I have to get done it makes a lot easier and more enjoyable.
"Taking solace in the fact that I can come to the rink, I can skate with the guys, joke around – that's what we're here to do."
All in a matter of moments.
Tim Connolly's injury situation is looking less and less optimistic with each passing day.
Monday marked two weeks from the date of Connolly's upper-body injury, but he appears no closer to making his debut with the Leafs. The 30-year-old departed Tuesday's practice after just 15 minutes, this after a 45-minute workout on ice the day prior. "He was sore today so we back off and they do alternative recovery methods inside the trainer's room," said Ron Wilson, following practice at RCAF Arena.
While he's continually rode the bike to keep his conditioning at an optimal level, Connolly has yet to fully engage in contact at practice. When informally speaking with TSN Radio 1050 on Monday, Connolly said there was no update to his situation, no timeline for a return. At some point if the injury does not progress, it only makes sense that the team would consider alternative solutions. Wilson, however, denied the need for surgery.
"There's no surgery necessary," said Wilson. "He's improving day to day."
Connolly has already missed the first two games this season and looks doubtful to play on Saturday. His last game action took place against Buffalo on Sept. 23rd.
A minor cut nearly turned very serious for Clarke MacArthur. The 26-year-old suffered a cut to his left elbow during the Leafs first preseason game against Ottawa on Sept. 19th. This past Sunday the area became infected and "blew up". Back on the ice at practice on Tuesday – after an absence on Monday – MacArthur was in better spirits. "It's okay," he said. "A little sore, but I'm just trying to wash [the area] every day. It's getting better every day so that's a good thing."
Dealt a two-game suspension to start the regular season, MacArthur is expected to make his season debut against Calgary on Saturday. He was forced to dump all of his upper-body equipment because of the infection.
"I probably should have done that at the start of the year, but how do you know?" he chuckled. "I've had my shoulder pads since I was 12, so they're gone."
Nazem Kadri continues his comeback from a left knee strain. The 20-year-old practiced with teammates again on Tuesday and while he hopes to join the Leafs on Saturday, the likely scenario is a trip to the Marlies. "Who knows really," said Kadri, of an impending assignment. "It's always up to the coaching staff, but whatever happens happens."
Kadri suffered the injury on Sept. 27th during a preseason game in Ottawa. He was expected to miss 2-4 weeks, but has progressed quicker than expected. "Yeah, I guess a little bit, but I'm young, I heal quick," he said. "As of right now, it's getting pretty close to 100%. Honestly, I don't even think I've been off the ice too, too long to really lose my wind too much."
The Leafs would be forced to make a roster move if Kadri joined the team on Saturday. Wilson declined to reveal impending plans, but with no roster spot immediately open – and 24 with Kadri in the mix – an assignment to the Marlies for conditioning and roster breathing purposes only makes sense.
Cody Franson is likely to make his Leafs debut very soon. Wilson indicated Tuesday the likelihood of Franson seeing action against the Flames on Saturday. "Not going to keep him on the bench long," said Wilson. "It's kind of a juggling act right now; he wants to play and show why we made a big trade like that for him.
"He's going to get the opportunity."
Wilson wouldn't indicate which defenceman would come out of the lineup in his place.