NASHVILLE – A hard realization swallowed Travis Dermott as he sat inside the bowels of Bridgestone Arena Saturday night.
Eyes moist and a touch red, the boy from Newmarket, Ont., who grew up fantasizing of pulling a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater over his head understands he may have done so for the final time.
The trade deadline is nigh, and Dermott has already been swapped on the Internet a million times.
Good player. Movable contract.
He’s fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, struggled to hold onto a third-pairing role, and needs a change of scenery. Management could use the cap space for whomever joins the dressing room in the next day and a half.
Emotional, the defenseman tried to lean on clichés in his postgame availability — “that’s hockey,” “whatever happens, happens” — but Dermott has always been as candid as he has been quick to smile.
His heart, it couldn’t help but leak onto his sleeve.
“It was surreal being drafted by the Leafs and all this stuff leading up to this. But how many guys play their entire career in the same team? So, it’s something that… it’s always there. It’s always a possibility to get moved out. Wish everything works out as well as it could, but that’s hockey,” said Dermott.
He thought back to June 27, 2015, when his life changed for good. For the best.
“It’s a dream. I keep pinching myself even to this day. Like, there’s no way. I’m still dreaming from draft day. They didn’t actually call my name. This is just a five-year-long dream. You try to take it for all it is and really appreciate it.
“But if it’s in the next week or next 10 years, whenever I’m gone, I’ll definitely be looking back on it and reminiscing on some good times.”
Dermott accepts that “good teams are built on competition within the group,” but he’s found himself on the outside of the starting lineup more often than the two younger blueliners he’s battling with for ice time.
Rasmus Sandin has 51 games played.
Timothy Liljegren has 44.
Dermott just played his 43rdand possibly his last.
Starting with the Heritage Classic, he was scratched for three consecutive games after what his coach termed his best stretch of hockey all season. Keefe chose to give the Sandin–Liljegren pair some run.
The outdoor scratch stung.
“That’s probably a game you’re looking forward to,” Dermott said, diplomatically.
“You, of course, expect a lot of things when you do put in the hours. But nothing’s promised. You should come in every day, do your job, be happy with the effort you put in and take the outcomes as they come.”
So, Demott has been pouring his efforts into practices and trying to take pride in staying sharp. Easier said than done.
“Some days it’s hard, but that’s what I try to focus on,” he said. “I love this group. I mean, you come in every day and there’s such good energy all the way through the lineup. There’s not one guy that is bringing bad vibes and kind of hurting the squad.
“Even when the media is hard on us and we’ve lost a couple, the guys always lean on each other. And I think that makes it almost better for us — that you have to lean on each other more because there is so much pressure from the outside.”
The outside pressure, the swelling trade speculation, Dermott’s teammates wear it hasn’t affected his upbeat attitude.
“That’s not easy to do. You’re not getting in games, and it’s hard to find your rhythm,” Auston Matthews said. “But he just comes to the rink every day. He works hard. Nothing really seems to get to him. He’s always happy, and he’s always a guy that brings a lot of really good energy to the group.”
A trade won’t be the dream, but the way things are going, it’s feeling inevitable.
“I love playing hockey, you know?” Dermott said.
“Wherever that is.”