EL SEGUNDO–Alexei Ponikarovsky was in his eighth season in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform when he got the call this time last year. He had been dealt to the Penguins hours before the NHL trade deadline.
He packed his bags and headed to Pittsburgh, feeling like a college graduate who was starting a new job in a different part of the country.
"It’s kind of unique because you never experienced that before," he said.
After helping the Penguins reach the Eastern Conference semifinals, Ponikarovsky signed a free-agent contract with the Kings in the offseason. Six months later, the 30-year-old left wing is feeling more relaxed heading into Monday’s deadline at noon PT.
It’s a day that causes most NHL players to wince at the sound of their cell phone, while others answer in anticipation of a new chapter in their careers.
"When you get traded the first time, you go through some emotions and stuff but that’s the way it is," Ponikarovsky said. "It’s part of the job. You just have to accept that and life goes on."
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell was injured last season and knew he wasn’t going anywhere. The two years prior to that, he was fly fishing during the trade deadline.
"If that gives you any idea, it doesn’t really matter to me," said Mitchell, who is playing for the sixth different team in his 11th year in the NHL. "One door closes and one opens."
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi has been kicking the tires around the league in an attempt to add another goal-scoring forward. He has been reluctant to offer any of his prized young players, both on the current roster and in the minors.
The pursuit became more desperate over the weekend when the organization lost two forwards. Andrei Loktionov, who had been sent back to the minors five days earlier to make room for Marco Sturm’s return from injured reserve, suffered an apparent season-ending shoulder injury Friday night in an AHL game in Manchester, N.H.
Loktionov, who had recently displayed the type of offensive skill the Kings are looking for, was expected to be recalled by Los Angeles following the trade deadline, when rosters can expand. On top of that, the Kings placed Sturm on waivers earlier Friday, hoping to give the organization roster flexibility heading into the trade deadline.
Their hope was that Sturm would clear waivers, making him available to play Saturday night against the Avalanche but still eligible to be sent to Manchester if the Kings made a last-minute deal. Washington changed those plans when they claimed Sturm off waivers Saturday morning.
So, as the clock ticks toward noon, NHL players everywhere will be wondering if they’ll be wearing the same sweater tomorrow. Now that Ponikarovsky has been through it, he realizes it’s best just to pay attention to the job at hand.
"What you can do is control how you play," he said. "Everything else is up to the management and what they all decide, so you’re job is, basically, go out there and do your best and help team."