SUNRISE, Fla. — Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari couldn’t wait.
They couldn’t wait to get to Toronto — and couldn’t wait to get into the same room as their new teammates.
Acquired by the Maple Leafs from the St. Louis Blues ahead of the NHL trade deadline, the veteran forwards hopped on a plane hours after the deal was completed and were in the lineup that night.
“Changed the whole season,” O’Reilly said, looking back at that whirlwind few days.
“Just so excited.”
General managers with contending teams roll the dice ahead of every playoffs, sacrificing prospects, draft picks or other assets for help now in hopes their captain will be handed the Stanley Cup by commissioner Gary Bettman in June.
Sometimes it works. Often it doesn’t.
For the two Canadian teams still standing in the second round of this spring’s post-season, the deadline moves made by Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and Edmonton Oilers counterpart Ken Holland have been home runs.
Toronto went about a massive roster restructuring that saw O’Reilly, Acciari, defencemen Luke Schenn, Jake McCabe and Erik Gustafsson, and winger Sam Lafferty join the fold.
Edmonton, meanwhile, made one giant splash with blueliner Mattias Ekholm before also adding centre Nick Bjugstad.
So why have the moves worked so well?
“Just the type of players that they are and the type of people,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of his group’s addition. “They have a really good sense of what they bring to the table.”
Acciari credited the players, coaches and backroom staff for making Toronto’s new pieces feel comfortable during what can be a stressful time, especially when uprooting young families is involved.
“That helped me personally and I think every other guy in the locker room that came over (at) the deadline to play to our potential and make it as easy a transition as possible,” he said. “It was awesome just seeing the smiles on the guys’ faces. You never know going into a new locker room, but every guy here welcomed us and was excited to have us.
“And ready to do something special.”
Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said Ekholm has fit with his team “like a glove” since arriving on the scene from the Nashville Predators.
“We put a lot of work into trying to find the right person to complement our group,” Woodcroft said. “He’s a serious professional. He’s not somebody who just comes to the rink and waits for direction.
“He has a plan for what he wants to accomplish.”
Schenn, who rejoined the Leafs from the Vancouver Canucks some 15 years after being drafted by Toronto, said teams do extensive due diligence ahead of any move.
“No one’s stupid,” he said. “You do your homework on the player, the person.”
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said once the additions got settled, he made a point of moving them around the lineup.
“It’s one thing to be a teammate with a guy,” Keefe said. “But when you’re on their line or you’re sitting beside each other consistently on the bench or in the locker room, you can learn a lot.
“It’s a lot of veteran guys, a lot of guys with great personalities. A lot of guys that were very comfortable in who they are. There’s always an adjustment period for everyone, but I really saw our group come together — and very quickly.”
Bjugstad was excited to join the Oilers after waiting for the Arizona Coyotes to find him a destination.
“I was sitting for four or five days at home, watching everyone get plucked off,” he said. “I was wondering what was going to happen … it was kind of a stressful deal.”
Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot said none of Toronto’s deadline acquisitions dipped their toes into the new environment.
“Pretty comfortable in their own skin,” he said. “The personalities in and of themselves just matched.
“And then the fact that this group has been together for a while and been through deadlines before — been through guys coming in and out — the group was really open to embracing new guys.”
Schenn, who’s played for seven NHL organizations, said that’s crucial when linking up with a new team. The blueliner estimated he knows five or six players on every club from his tour around the league, while younger brother Brayden battled alongside O’Reilly and Acciari in St. Louis.
“I’m not afraid to be myself right from the start,” Schenn said. “Speak up and have some laughs with the guys. Chirp guys, take chirps.
“That’s the best part of it … not trying to ease your way into it.”
Woodcroft said the excitement in Ekholm’s voice following the trade to Edmonton, a city that isn’t usually high on a player’s list of preferred destinations, was reassuring that the correct move for the right person had been made.
“That was excellent,” Woodcroft said. “Somebody who really embraces the weather and the northern climate, who wanted to be part of the proud history and tradition of our club.
“He loves being an 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, The Canadian Press