The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and although many Montrealers were expecting lots of big moves, it was rather quiet.
With a disappointing season up to date, the Montreal Canadiens (26-33-12) are currently sitting in 13th in the Eastern Conference. Ahead of the deadline, they were high up on the seller board with big names such as forwards Alex Galchenyuk, captain Max Pacioretty, and Tomas Plekanec.
By the end of the day, it was only Plekanec who switched addresses, moving down the 401 to join a Habs’ rival in the Toronto Maple Leafs. The third-round pick back in 2001 had played every game of his NHL career in the bleu-blanc-rouge before the deal.
Prior to the deadline, I had a conversation with former NHL player Steve Begin, who played in the league from 1997 to 2013. Through 2003 to 2009, he also donned the jersey of his hometown Canadiens. He talked about the pressures of playing in a big-market team like Montreal, the status of being prepared/unprepared for retirement at any age, and of course, he described the moments leading up to the trade deadline when you find out you’re the one being dealt.
The 39-year-old Trois-Rivieres native, who now lives in Candiac, started his career as a member of the Calgary Flames organization for parts of five seasons before an off-season trade saw him shipped to Buffalo. Before he could put on the Sabres jersey, he was placed on waivers and quickly claimed by Montreal.
Before his career came to an end, he would also make brief stopovers in Dallas, Boston, and then two games with Nashville. He sat out the entire 2011-12 season without a contract and a nagging hip injury. He tried to return to the game, but wasn’t picked up.
The following season was shortened to the lockout and after being cut by the Canucks, he signed a one-year contract back where it all began in Calgary. He announced his retirement in January, 2014 and has been enjoying his life post-hockey.
“Life is going really well. It’s the situation that happens when you don’t have anything to do, that’s when you could have a problem, and that’s why players get burnouts,” said Begin. “They get burnouts and personal problems, cause they’re so used to having a fixed agenda, with everything planned out. When you’re done hockey, then it’s all up to you to arrange it all, and the issues arise.”
The sudden retirement is something that players don’t expect, whether it from an injury like Begin or otherwise, but according to him, he was one of the lucky ones, as he calls it, because he was prepared.
“For me, I was always ready. The first time I was a little nervous, but the second time was during the lockout [in 2012-13] when I started a company with my buddy - so that when it was actually time to retire. I was more ready than ever.”
There has been a lot of scrutiny and finger-pointing in Montreal this year, mostly at general manager Marc Bergevin and team owner Geoff Molson. Although the team will not make the post-season, and despite Molson’s claim to have complete faith in Bergevin, many others will disagree.
The minor moves made at the deadline were shipping off blue-liner Joe Morrow to the Winnipeg Jets, giving him the opportunity at the post-season, and then acquiring Mike Reilly from the Minnesota Wild. Morrow has two assists in eight games since joining the Jets, and Reilly has five assists in nine games since joining Montreal. The Canadiens also shipped out rookie defenceman Jakub Jerabek to the Washington Capitals for a pick
The biggest move was Plekanec going to Toronto. He was part of a five-player deal, and since the move, the turtleneck-wearing centre has gone pointless in seven games.
The emotions that come into play at this annual date on the calendar is usually a stressful time for all players, coaches, and management. But it doesn’t stop there. It also brings out the anxiety in the families, presenting to possibility of having to decide their next move.
For Begin, he was traded back on trade deadline day in February, 2009 from Montreal to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Doug Janik. He still vividly remembers when he received word of the trade.
“I do remember that day. We were on a plane, and had just landed in Philadelphia when I got pulled aside, saying that the brass [Bob Gainey] wanted to speak with me,” recalled Begin. “That’s when he told me I had been traded to Dallas. I was in shock, asked why, and what I did wrong, but in the end, I thanked him and the organization for the opportunity. It was hard to just move on, but it’s part of the business.”
Following his hockey career, Begin said there are some advantages to retiring young (he was 34), and one of the key ones is family.
“I’m really happy I did [retire] when I did, cause there’s so much you can miss out on, like spending quality time with your family, and watching your children grow up,” said Begin. “I was usually on the road a lot, and there’s a lot that you miss [at home]. I can see my daughters grow up, and that’s amazing.”
As for hockey, he still keeps tabs on the Habs, going to see the occasional game, and is also an avid member of the alumni crew, going to events and sporting his #22 whenever he is invited to. Although he didn’t retire a Hab, being a part of the Montreal sports community is something he relishes and takes to heart.
“I do always try to come to games when I can, and watch as much as possible, but when I can’t, or am not home, I do follow the team on social media,” said Begin. “Montreal is and always will be home for my family and I. I was happy to play here, and am happy to live here.”