Traded straight up for each other last winter, the defensemen will face their old teams for the first time tonight.
EDMONTON, ALBERTA - Nearly a calendar year has passed since a one-for-one swap shook the worlds of Nick Schultz and Tom Gilbert.
The trade was the type rarely seen in the NHL -- two defensemen, the exact same age (29), each with two years left on his contract, making roughly the same money, simply changing locations between Minnesota and Edmonton.
Schultz is from western Canada. Gilbert is a born-and-bred Minnesotan.
That doesn't mean it was a simple adjustment for either.
Schultz, the second-ever draft pick by the Wild in 2000, played the most games (743) in team history. Gilbert, originally a Colorado draft pick, had played only for the Oilers. Walking into a foreign locker room, meeting new teammates and learning new systems aren't always easy when you've known only one thing.
Time has helped that initial jolt subside, but Thursday night when the Wild and Oilers meet for the first time since the Feb. 27, 2012, trade deadline, the emotions will return for both.
"Living in Minnesota for 10 years, it became my life, that was home," said Schultz. "All my kids were born there, my wife and I made great friends away from hockey. I was drafted there, built relationships with the players and the trainers there. Everything that kind of happened to me happened because of the Wild.
"So it's going to be strange seeing that jersey as the opposition."
Rarely does a locker room screech to a silence the way it was that February day when Wild players learned after practice that Schultz was traded.
Roommate Mikko Koivu didn't say a word. Kyle Brodziak yelled, "What?" Cal Clutterbuck literally stopped short for 10 seconds.
"He's what this city and this franchise is all about," Clutterbuck said at the time.
Schultz was respected so heartily by the organization that General Manager Chuck Fletcher ran from his office to the locker room because he felt he owed it to Schultz to inform him of the trade face-to-face.
"You're trading a guy that is a part of our identity and our culture and is highly respected and popular with his teammates and the fans," Fletcher said. "It's never easy trading players like that."
Different teams, different needs
It's easy to see what both teams were trying to accomplish.
The Wild needed a mobile, more offensive-minded defenseman that would help the team get out of its zone. After trading Brent Burns and Marek Zidlicky, Fletcher also needed a right-shot defenseman. The Wild also planned to pursue Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in free agency, so you can bet Gilbert's past history with both (Gilbert played youth hockey with Parise and is a Wisconsin alum like Suter) entered Fletcher's thinking.
The Oilers were looking for a veteran defensive defenseman that could help stabilize an up-and-coming team full of young, offensive-minded stars, so it wasn't a deal about contracts (Gilbert has a higher salary-cap hit but makes a shade less than Schultz's $3.6 million).
"You don't see these type of hockey trades very often," Fletcher said. "Nowadays, a lot of the trades you see are teams moving money or moving a veteran player for picks or prospects. In this case, two defensemen in the prime of their careers were traded for each other.
"It's a trade that's worked out well for both teams. Tom has played very, very well here. And from what I understand, Nick has played well in Edmonton. That's the way trades should work out. You trade quality for quality, and both teams got what they're looking for."
Schultz, partnered with offensive defenseman Justin Schultz, has one assist in 19 games averaging 19 minutes, 3 seconds a night.
"Nick has only been on the ice for a couple of goals in all his penalty-killing, and just the minutes he plays there shows his defensive foundation," Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said. "Five-on-five, he's a stabilizing factor period. ... He's exemplary in the room and everywhere else."
Gilbert is the Wild's fifth-leading scorer with seven points, three of them goals, in 15 games. He has logged the second-most ice time on the team, averaging 23:09 a game.
"He started the year so good for us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "It seems like he plays his best the more you get him out there. He's played upwards of 30 minutes some nights and does an unbelievable job. The thing I like is his compete, the details, none of it drops ever."
The transition has been made easier for Gilbert than Schultz because he is from Bloomington, where he starred at Jefferson High School.
"It's been great to be honest with you," said Gilbert, who recently got engaged to an Edmonton girl, Larissa. "It's just been great to be around my family. I just got a new nephew five months ago, so it's kind of cool to not miss those memories. And my parents bought season tickets pretty much the day I got traded."
Schultz and his two brothers idolized the Oilers growing up in Saskatchewan.
"It was neat walking into the locker room that first day and seeing the history -- the guys that have worn this sweater, the five Cups," Schultz said. "I'm honored to be an Oiler and to play here. It's a different experience playing for a Canadian team, in a Canadian market. It's fun and pressure-filled. It's something you want as a hockey player."
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