Dylan DeMelo sat down for lunch with his wife, Jessica, at their kitchen table on Tuesday afternoon when his cell phone started ringing.
With less than a week to go until the NHL trade deadline and without a contract in place, DeMelo was nervous every time he received a phone call.
When his phone display showed it was an incoming call from Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, his mind immediately jumped to the most logical conclusion.
“When you see Pierre is calling at this time of the year when there have been no contract negotiations, I figured I was getting dealt,” DeMelo said. “It was pretty evident that the writing was on the wall for me.
“I could see this coming. I was obviously preparing myself mentally for it. All month of February it’s in the back of your mind, unfortunately.”
Sure enough, Dorion was contacting DeMelo to thank him for his 18 months of service with the team and to inform him that he was being traded to the Winnipeg Jets.
DeMelo confirmed the media reports from earlier this week that there had been no tangible or concrete contract offer from the Senators submitted to his camp at any point over the past few months.
“We were a week out and there were no talks,” DeMelo said.
While he admitted to being “emotional” about the trade, DeMelo wanted to convey to reporters on Thursday that he was not harbouring any resentment or bitterness towards a contract negotiation that never gained any traction.
“I wouldn’t say hurt. I understand the business. Just maybe a little bit surprised,” admitted DeMelo, who didn’t think the Sens would trade him on a game day.
“But I knew professionally that things weren’t looking good in regards to staying here. When you’re two weeks out and a week out and it’s been quiet, it’s easy to see where things are. It’s a shame we couldn’t work out something. There are no hard feelings or anything like that.”
DeMelo became one of Ottawa’s most reliable defencemen in parts of two seasons with the club. Last year, he was a steadying influence for Thomas Chabot in the young defenceman’s 55-point breakout season.
He was regularly paired with Mark Borowiecki this season— a notoriously defensive defenceman who set career highs in goals (seven), assists (11) and points (18) with DeMelo as his partner.
The 26-year-old is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but made it clear that he wanted to stay and help develop an identity for a young, rebuilding team. And while the club has struggled to have success on the ice, DeMelo and his wife fell in love with the city and were willing to call Ottawa their permanent home.
“Obviously it was my top choice to stay here in Ottawa. We couldn’t just work something out,” DeMelo explained. “You’re a human being and I liked it here. And the human side is when you enjoy a place and you’re attached to it, it’s sometimes hard to let it go.”
Thanks to a quirk in the timing of the trade, DeMelo never left the city of Ottawa after learning about the deal on Tuesday. The Jets flew into Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon ahead of their meeting against the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.
So DeMelo packed up a few belongings to bring on the Jets’ four-game road trip and headed over to the team’s hotel in Kanata to meet his new teammates on Wednesday evening.
“I had extra time to pack and do some laundry. There wasn’t as big of a rush,” DeMelo said. “That was nice to not freak out too much. I was able to digest things a bit. It’s kind of funny how it works out.”
DeMelo says it will be nice to get a game in against his old team right away – and joked that the club would likely include one of the humorous Christmas videos he did with the Senators social media team as part of a scoreboard acknowledgement on Thursday evening.
He added that it will be a little bit of a challenge to remember that he’s no longer teammates with the likes of Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Anthony Duclair when he sees them on the ice Thursday.
“Make sure I’m passing to the right team,” DeMelo laughed. “Shouldn’t be too hard. The colours are quite different.”