Daniel Winnik’s phone rang at around 10:45 p.m. on Sunday and, though he didn’t recognize the phone number, he knew immediately the voice on the other end would tell him he had been traded.
That voice belonged to Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello, who informed Winnik he’d be heading to the Washington Capitals.
“I was pretty shocked,” Winnik said Monday afternoon. “I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to get traded or where, and definitely wasn’t expecting to come to the Capitals.”
Winnik, 30, was packaged with a fifth-round draft pick in exchange for Brooks Laich, Connor Carrick and a second-round draft pick, sending him from the team with the fewest points in the standings to the team with the most.
Although he believes issues related to his work visa will prevent him from playing for the Capitals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he’s hoping to be available the next night, when, coincidentally, Washington will host the Maple Leafs.
“It kind of revitalizes your play,” Winnik said. “It brings more meaning to the games, that’s for sure. It’s nothing against what we’ve been in Toronto, but you know, you kind of try to play spoiler when you’re out of the playoffs, like we have been in Toronto. Coming to a team that’s in a pretty cushy playoff position, you always just want to keep playing better and winning more games so we finish first in the East and hopefully win the Presidents’ Trophy as well.”
Winnik, who was dealt from the Maple Leafs to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the deadline a year ago, didn’t expect to be traded again because he signed a two-year deal to return to Toronto in the offseason.
After Lamoriello told him of the deal, Winnik heard from Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz. They didn’t discuss Winnik’s role in Washington, but Winnik said Trotz told him he was familiar with his play dating to his time playing for several Western Conference teams.
He will likely fill a third- or fourth-line role with the Capitals and should fill in for Laich as part of the penalty kill. Laich, who had been with the Capitals since being obtained in a trade on Feb. 18, 2004, was their longest-tenured player.
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock told reporters on Monday morning that Carrick is expected to be in the lineup that night for a home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Laich, too, could make his debut, though Babcock was less certain if that would be a possibility.
“He’s a real good man, a real good person,” Babcock said. “Obviously, he’s in the last year, coming up, of his deal. I know he treats people real well and he’ll be a good guy to be around our kids.”
Winnik played for the Anaheim Ducks in 2012-13 and 2013-14 when they won the Pacific Division. Though he thought the team could have advanced further, both seasons led to early playoff exits, giving Winnik hesitation when asked to assess the Capitals’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
“The playoffs are tough,” Winnik said. “You don’t know what to expect. But, I think this is probably the deepest roster the organization has had, and that’s going to bode well. Not just that — I think goaltending goes a long way in playoffs, and if [Braden] Holtby just maintains that play, it should do us good.”