“Just really excited.”
General managers with competing teams roll the dice ahead of each playoff round, sacrificing prospects, draft picks, or other assets for favors now in hopes their captain will be handed the Stanley Cup by commissioner Gary Bettman in June.
Sometimes it works. Often not.
For the two Canadian teams still in the post-season second round this spring, the deadline move by Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and Edmonton Oilers partner Ken Holland has been a home run.
Toronto underwent a major roster restructuring which saw O’Reilly, Acciari, defenders Luke Schenn, Jake McCabe and Erik Gustafsson, and winger Sam Lafferty join.
Edmonton, meanwhile, made one big splash with blueliner Mattias Ekholm before adding center Nick Bjugstad.
So why do the moves work so well?
“Just the type of players they are and the type of people,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of adding to his group. “They have a very good understanding of what they bring to the table.”
Acciari credited the players, coaches and backroom staff for putting Toronto’s new signing at ease during difficult times, especially when uprooted young families were involved.
“It helped me personally and I think everyone else in the locker room came in (on) the deadline to play to our potential and make the transition as easy as possible,” he said. “It’s amazing just to see the smiles on the faces of the guys. You never know you’re going into a new dressing room but every guy here welcomed us and was so happy to have us.
“And ready to do something special.”
Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said Ekholm has fit into his team “like a glove” since arriving on the scene from the Nashville Predators.
“We worked hard to find the right people to complete our group,” said Woodcroft. “He’s a serious professional. He wasn’t someone who just came to the arena and waited for directions.
“He has a plan for what he wants to achieve.”
Schenn, who rejoined the Leafs from the Vancouver Canucks some 15 years after being recruited by Toronto, said the team did extensive due diligence before making any move.
“No one is stupid,” he said. “You did your homework on the player, the person.”
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said once the addition was finalized he decided to move him around the lineup.
“It’s one thing to be teammates with a guy,” said Keefe. “But when you are in their ranks or you sit next to each other consistently on the bench or in the locker room you can learn a lot.
“Lots of veteran people, lots of great personalities. Many men are very comfortable with who they are. There’s always an adjustment period for everyone, but I really saw our group coming together — and very quickly.”
Bjugstad is excited to join the Oilers after waiting for the Arizona Coyotes to find a purpose for him.
“I sat for four or five days at home, watching everyone get unplugged,” he said. “I wondered what would happen … it was kind of a stressful deal.”
Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot says none of Toronto’s deadline-day acquisitions have forayed into the new environment.
“Quite comfortable in his own skin,” he said. “The personalities in and of themselves are very well matched.
“And then the fact that this group has been together for a while and has passed deadlines before — been through people coming in and going out — this group is really open to embrace new people.”
Schenn, who played for seven NHL organizations, said it was important when joining a new team. Blueliner estimates he knows five or six players at each club from his tour around the league, while younger brother Brayden struggled alongside O’Reilly and Acciari at St. Louis.
“I wasn’t afraid to be myself in the first place,” says Schenn. “Talk and laugh with friends. Chirping guys, take a tweet.
“That’s the best part… not trying to ease your way into it.”
Woodcroft said the delight in Ekholm’s voice after his trade to Edmonton, a city not normally included on players’ lists of preferred destinations, reassured that the right steps for the right people were being made.
“It was amazing,” said Woodcroft. “Someone who truly loves the weather and climate of the north, who wants to be part of the history and traditions that our club is proud of.
“He loved being the Edmonton Oiler.”
Like the Leafs and their new crew, the feeling is mutual.
– With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Donna Spencer in Las Vegas.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, Canadian Press
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