Just as an example, about three months ago I moved across town -- maybe two miles -- and I still have boxes I haven't unpacked. Now, imagine that you're somebody like Lee Stempniak, and on March 3 -- trade deadline day -- you are informed that you've been traded from Toronto to Phoenix. You have 24 hours to pick up and move the 2,200 miles and be ready to play a game the next night.
Sounds like chaos, doesn't it?
"It is," said Stempniak in a phone interview on Wednesday night. "I'm engaged, so it's not like I have kids or anything like that, but you certainly have a life -- I had a life in Toronto, an apartment and things like that, and you just have to pick up and go.
"There had been some speculation that I would be traded because my contract was up and changes needed to be made in Toronto, so I was at least prepared for it a little bit, at least mentally. But I didn't find out I was traded until about 3 p.m. I didn't find out I was going to Phoenix until about 4:30 p.m. on deadline day."
He explained how he had to wake up at 6 a.m. the next morning to catch a 9 a.m. flight. He still managed to make it to Phoenix on time to play against the Colorado Avalanche later that night, even scoring a goal in the Coyotes' 3-1 win.
This wasn't the first time in his career that he had been traded, having previously been sent from St. Louis to Toronto during the 2008-09 season. Stempniak said that he had no more than two hours from the time he was informed of that trade to when he had to be at the airport. At least this time he had a chance to pack.
"Obviously, you're not taking many things," he said. "You have your bag, your sticks and whatever luggage you'll need for the time being."
As hectic as the move to Phoenix might have been, Stempniak talked extensively about how excited he was to be going to the Coyotes. And who could blame him? The team has been one of the biggest stories, if not the biggest story, in the NHL this season; a relatively unknown group of players taking a team with a shaky long-term outlook and putting it in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture.
"Honestly, I didn't know much about them other than how they were doing in the standings," said Stempniak. "They came into Toronto and beat us pretty good about two months ago, and that's when I realized how good of a team it was and that it wasn't a fluke. To be joining a team that's fighting for home ice in the playoffs and playing so well, it's exciting. I had heard nothing but great things about the coaching staff and I was just really, really excited to be on my way there."
Going from Toronto to Phoenix is like traveling to complete opposite ends of the spectrum in the hockey world. Like comparing apples to, I don't know, fish sticks. Completely different in every way possible. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs are the talk of the town 24 hours a day and play to packed houses every night, while every move a player, coach or manager makes is under intense scrutiny.
Stempniak admits that it's a little different in Phoenix, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's bad. Or that he didn't enjoy his brief stay in Toronto.
"In Toronto it just comes with the territory," he said. "And don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time there. It's an unbelievable organization, first class all the way, and the history and the tradition associated with the Maple Leafs is very special."
He continued: "Playing for a team like that where the city lives and breathes hockey, being recognized around the city, and all of the scrutiny from the media and things like that, to me, that wasn't such a big deal. I put the most pressure on myself and I have really high expectations for myself, so it's not like the pressure from the media or fans was a burden that I couldn't handle. Going to Phoenix, the fans there have been great. They're having fun every game, they've been really good crowds, and the fans really seem to be starting to rally around this team. It's just been a great fit for me so far."
Great for him, and great for Phoenix. In his first six games, Stempniak, playing on a line with Vernon Fiddler and Taylor Pyatt, has already recorded six goals and two assists and the Coyotes have won every game, outscoring their opponents by a 20-7 margin.
"They're two guys that are just really easy to play with," Stempniak said. "And I mean that as the biggest possible compliment. They work really hard, they skate well, they're responsible both ways, and the biggest thing is they're talented. If there is a play there to be made, they make the play. And if not, we'll get it on the forecheck and try to generate offense off the cycle. They just play a really straight forward game, and for me, it's easy to just jump in there and try to complement them and the way they've been playing."
"I think it took me a lot longer than I like to admit to get adjusted in Toronto," he said. "I learned a lot through that. I knew this time coming in that it was a good team, and they had success, and they were just looking for a couple of pieces to complement the whole part. For me, it was just a matter of coming in and playing my game. I think that's what I learned; you have to play your game and do what you've done to be successful, because that's why they got you in the first place."
Along with the addition of Stempniak, the Coyotes were extremely busy at the deadline, making a series of moves. Those moves, combined with the players that were already on board, have made the Coyotes a team of hard-working, two-way players that goes three or four lines deep (we've already talked about the success of the Radim Vrbata-Martin Hanzal-Petr Prucha line), has a very good defense and an excellent goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov. They're not just a team that's fighting for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, they're a team that has an outside shot of possibly catching the San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the Western Conference.
"At this time of year it's tough to play games on the road and win games on the road," said Stempniak. "For us, the biggest thing is to go out and look at each game as two points and try to get as many points as we can. Of course, at the same time, we're aware of where we sit in the standings. If we're going to catch San Jose it's going to be a process to get there. We're not going to get there in one game. We just have to continue the process."