TORONTO — Nik Antropov, the lanky Toronto Maple Leafs forward and a lifer with the team since that drafted him 10th overall in 1998, settled in Wednesday to watch TSN’s coverage of the National Hockey League’s annual trade deadline day swap meet just like he always does.
Antropov watched the names of the traded players popping up on his television set. There was Mikael Tellqvist, a former teammate, getting shipped from Phoenix to Buffalo, and Olli Jokinen leaving the desert, too, for Calgary.
And on it went. The deals kept rolling in, and Antropov was still watching until about 2:40 p.m. ET when the 29-year-old’s afternoon was interrupted by a phone call from his boss, Leafs general manager Brian Burke.
“I was just treating it like another deadline that I have watched, like it was nothing special,” Antropov said. “And then I see my name come up there on television. (Burke) called me about three minutes before they announced the trade on television. This is something that I have never been through. I can’t really describe it.”
It is a confusing thing, being traded. Especially for the first time, especially after nine seasons of loyal service to the only NHL team on his resume. Antropov knew the trade was coming. He had anticipated it for weeks.
Even so, one minute Antropov was a Toronto Maple Leaf and the next minute Burke was on the phone telling him he was a member of the New York Rangers, thanking him for his years of service and wishing him good luck.
Was Wednesday, then, a happy day or sad day?
“It is a little bit of both,” Antropov said. “I have been here long enough to make this city my home, but then the organization decided to go in a different direction. So I am excited that somebody wanted me.”
Antropov netted the Leafs a second-round draft pick and a conditional selection from New York. Glen Sather, the general manager that wanted him, called Antropov — who will jump to the top of the Rangers’ stat sheet with 21 goals and 46 points without having played a game for them — 15 minutes after Burke. Sather welcomed his new addition and told Antropov he would see him later Thursday in Long Island where the ex-Leaf will make his Rangers debut against the New York Islanders.
“He’s a gifted goal-scorer,” Sather said on a conference call. “I think he will help us in the goal-scoring department, and he’s a talented guy.”
Antropov harboured mixed emotions about the trade. But his wife, Lena, had one: she was sad. The couple has two young children and the road trip Antropov was about to be going on to New York would be different than all the rest.
Antropov had not even started packing yet when a reporter reached him at home about an hour after the deal.
“My wife’s pretty sad,” he said. “But the March break is coming up soon, so my family will be coming to New York for a visit.”
Antropov is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, so he is not sure how long the move to Broadway will be for. And beyond this season, who knows? He could sign anywhere. It is an exciting possibility, and scary, and definitely different. But no matter where the road leads for Antropov, who became a Canadian citizen during his time with the Leafs, he will always return to the city where he got his start.
“I love Toronto,” he said. “It is a great place and it is always going to be home. It doesn’t matter where I am playing. Toronto is where I will retire.
“Toronto is my home.”
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