ANAHEIM, Calif -- With the temperature in the Twin Cities plummeting into the single digits and the Minnesota Wild mired in a four-game losing skid, it's a pretty good time for the team to embark on a three-game tour of California. And back-to-back games in Anaheim and Los Angeles provide a special homecoming for Jarret Stoll, especially considering how the past few months have been for one of the Wild's latest additions.
"Seeing the palm trees and the nice clean roads and clean vehicles driving around. It's familiar surroundings, for sure," Stoll said. "I'm looking forward to coming back, playing my old team and some old buddies I still have. I circled the date when I was with New York and saw it was a pretty quick trip here once I came to Minnesota. It's going to be fun. It will be pretty interesting and a little weird, I'm sure."
After an eight-year tenure with the Los Angeles Kings that included two Stanley Cup titles, Stoll closed out last season by missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09, his first season in Los Angeles. That disappointment was a prelude to a very long and challenging offseason.
On April 17, six days after the Kings finished the season, Stoll was arrested in Las Vegas on suspicion of possession of cocaine and Ecstasy. The felony charge was dismissed in a plea deal after Stoll pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanors.
A long offseason didn't get much better after that. A free agent, Stoll was not brought back by the Kings and he waited more than a month after the official opening of free agency before signing a one-year deal with the New York Rangers.
But it wasn't long before the veteran center's hopes for a Broadway renaissance were halted.
After registering one goal and two assists in 29 games with the Rangers, Stoll was placed on waivers before being picked up by Minnesota on Dec. 16. Since then, he has one assist and is a minus-2 with six shots in 16 games.
"The only thing I can surmise is it's performance-based, he couldn't win a spot. I haven't heard anything about off-ice problems with him," said former Rangers general manager Neil Smith, who sees New York's glut at center with the play of veteran Dominic Moore and emergence of J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg as a major contributor in the decision to waive Stoll.
"You look and see who beat him out of a spot. They just played better than him."
But the unexpected turn of events isn't something Stoll is focusing on.
"It was one of those very quick things that happened. You get a phone call, you pack up, you move and you start playing right away. I haven't had time to think much about the start of the year, to be honest," Stoll said. "It was a weird kind of start to the season. In the first 40 games a lot has happened. I'm just trying to stay positive, trying to keep working through it."
After being a picture of consistency for more than a decade, Stoll was experiencing instability for the first time in his career. The transition has been difficult, and not just because he is no longer able to wear No. 28, a number hand-picked by his late grandfather the week before his death. (He's now wearing No. 19.)
Stoll attempted to soften the shock by reaching out to Wild players and staff -- an effort that has earned him rave reviews so far.
"I just think the veteran presence he has in the room and around the guys, that's been huge," Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. "It's not just on the ice, what he brings. You can see that he has won and been successful in his league. I think you can always use a guy like that. I don't think any team has too much leadership."
It's that leadership that convinced the Wild to take a chance on Stoll by plucking him off the waiver wire. On a Wild roster short on big-game experience, no one can rival Stoll's résumé. Even before hoisting the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings, he'd established himself as a leader after a trip to the 2006 Cup finals with the Edmonton Oilers, a 2002 Memorial Cup championship with the Kootenay Ice and a silver-medal performance at the IIHF World Junior Championships, where he served as Canada's captain.
"He's been a welcome addition for us. You put him on the ice and you know what you're going to get," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "He's been there, he's won in the most meaningful games."
Stoll's return trip to Los Angeles will no doubt be the latest addition to that list of meaningful games. Of course, a trip to the not-so-friendly confines of the Honda Center to play the Anaheim Ducks first awaits Stoll before he makes his return to Los Angeles. He doesn't expect the reception from Ducks fans to be too friendly. Not after waging countless Kings-Ducks battles in one of the NHL's fiercest rivalries. Those battles include a 2014 Game 7 win in Anaheim that sent the Kings to the Western Conference finals while on their way to their second Cup win in three seasons. A series-clinching win in Anaheim also sent Stoll and the Oilers to the 2006 finals, where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Through all of these huge games, the visiting dressing room in Anaheim became a familiar place for Stoll. But stepping into the visitors room at Staples Center Tuesday night will be an altogether new experience.
Despite the twists his career has taken in the past nine months, Stoll says he'll be ready.
"I had eight great years there. Eight of the best years of my life and a lot of great memories. I'll never forget those. I'm happy to be back," Stoll said. "I live here in the offseason, so it will be good to spend some time at my house. I still talk to a lot of those guys, so it will be good to play against them. Hopefully we can get that win."