Travis Hamonic was finishing his annual drive from Winnipeg to Long Island on Wednesday morning. He turned to Stephanie, his wife of two months, and said simply:
“It feels like home.”
There were only conflicted feelings for the Islanders defenseman at this time last year. He had arrived prior to training camp burdened by a difficult family situation, one that prompted a very surprising request to general manager Garth Snow — Hamonic asked Snow for a trade almost a year ago to the day, preferably to the Jets in Hamonic’s hometown so he could better handle the family matter that he has chosen not to speak about.
Snow and Hamonic kept the request quiet for all of camp and the first month of the season, an impressive feat given that the GM was in contact with any number of his counterparts around the league to find a trade fit.
Between breaking up the core of his team by trading one of his best defensemen — who also happens to have one of the most team-friendly contracts (four more seasons to go at a $3.875 million average annual value) around — Snow and his staff had to monitor Hamonic’s emotional health and how the rest of the Islanders would handle one of their leaders wanting out.
Add in the first year in Barclays Center, the eventual transition to new ownership and the need for the Isles to improve and it was potentially a massive headache for all involved.
“When it comes to a situation like this, there’s basically one team you can trade him to that would appease him and he’s got an incredibly favorable cap hit. So it’s an awful tough situation for Garth to be in,” said Doug Weight, Isles assistant GM and assistant coach. “We’re not going to give away this — a huge part of making up our team is Travis. We’re not giving away a leader on our team, someone who plays 25 minutes and has the cap hit he has. What happens is you’re going to get first-round picks, which can’t help us mid-season, or you’re going to get a guy making $6 million, which throws off what you’ve built in a cap system with a guy making $3.9. So you see the pickle.”
Ultimately, none of those things came to pass. Snow couldn’t find an acceptable deal. Word leaked out of Canada in November and Hamonic gave one press conference to address it, then didn’t speak of his situation or his trade request again until breakup day in May, when he announced his family situation had stabilized and he was rescinding his request.
In between, the 26-year-old not only played through his issues, he did so impressively.
“I guess you could take it as a compliment (that people said he didn’t seem affected by his situation), but we’re hockey players,” Hamonic said. “I’m not the only one who’s gone through something like that around the league. You just have to keep pushing.”
Weight said it wasn’t as simple as Hamonic playing well and the organization hoping things didn’t break down in those first weeks of the season. He, Snow, coach Jack Capuano and the rest of the staff, along with captain John Tavares, Hamonic and the core leaders on the Islanders talked often about how to handle the internal dymanics and then the public fallout once the request leaked out.
“It’s a credit to the leadership and the guys in the room,” Weight said. “These guys know him well, they supported him well — you hear all the cliches about the family atmosphere and all that. It really proved to be true for us last year.
“Full disclosure though: The first 2-3 months, Garth and I, we’re going to say hey, this is going to be a problem, it’s going to be apparent. But the only thing apparent was he was going to play good hockey and his teammates are going to support him. We were tickled pink by that.”
Even more so when Hamonic told Snow he wanted to stay just days after the Isles were eliminated by Tampa in the Eastern Conference semis.
“Reflecting on it during the summer, I was really appreciative of everyone’s respect, letting me deal with what was going on,” Hamonic said. “Things solidified themselves in that situation and I’m excited to head into camp with a clear head, clear heart and ready to rock. Just keep moving forward. I’m happy as hell to be here.”