TORONTO - Dave Nonis hovered in the offices high above the ice surface at the Leafs practice facility, studiously weighing the direction with which to take his emerging hockey club ahead of Wednesday's trade deadline.
On the ice below, his team practiced, riding the wave of an eight-game point streak (5-0-3), a long-awaited postseason berth in full view with just 12 games to go. Rewind the calendar to the February 27th deadline of a year ago and the situation was far trickier. The Leafs had lost eight of nine games, mired in a spectacular free-fall from which they would not escape. Suffice to say, the atmosphere in the Toronto dressing room then was strained and sour, a direct contrast to the undercurrents this year.
"Everybody was going somewhere it felt like last year," Cody Franson recalled in conversation with TSN.ca on Tuesday afternoon. "It was very much in our heads as to what could possibly happen and this year we've put ourselves in a better situation. Being in the playoffs right now has helped quiet that down a little bit."
One among many names on the block last year at this point - the Leafs made only a pair of minor league trades, including the acquisition of Mark Fraser from Anaheim - Franson remembered a particularly tense experience. Constantly in communication with his agent, friends, family, every ring of the phone loomed with potentially wearisome news. "My phone was in my pocket all day," he said of his first deadline in Toronto, "[I] kept checking on the ticker, my dad [was] calling me 'I'm hearing this right now, have you heard anything?' And it's just like you get things from all different angles. It's funny looking back on it now.
"Nashville, things were a little quieter there," he continued. "You're not in the limelight or anything like that so everything that they do is a little bit more subtle. Having gone through it for the first time in Toronto last year I'm approaching it differently this year. I'm going to try not to get as caught up in it and just relax."
His 26-year-old teammate in goal is taking a similar approach. Ben Scrivens could be directly affected by the 3 p.m. deadline - what with the potential acquisition of a veteran goaltender, namely Miikka Kiprusoff or Roberto Luongo - but is viewing the annual frenzy calmly, the benefactor of a few strains of recent experience. He and James Reimer were victims of similar circumstance this past summer when the noisy buzz of a Luongo trade swept the city.
"I guess that newspaper story wasn't selling as well so they had to switch up the faces, switch up the graphics," Scrivens quipped of the recent Kiprusoff rumours.
A surprisingly sturdy combination, Scrivens and Reimer have combined to post a 2.63 goals against average and .916 save percentage this season, numbers that far surpass uncertain expectations prior to the season. In spite of that success, however, - small sample size unquestionably a factor - the Leafs still may go out and upgrade at the position, the Kiprusoff fervour only heightening in recent days.
"Honestly this whole year has been essentially the same," noted Scrivens, who holds a 7-8-0 record, despite numbers, 2.59 goals against average and .918 save percentage, nearly identical to Reimer. "Between James and I, it's been a season-long question mark outside of our minds it seems like. Obviously we're both confident in what we can do as a tandem. So far, I think we've displayed that."
Unlike his predecessor in years past, the mandate for Nonis at this trade deadline is generally clear. With his team charging toward the playoffs for the first time since 2004, he can hunt decisively for immediate improvements to the roster - help on defence and down the middle most prominently - rather than scourge for draft picks and future rewards.
Pacing around the offices at MasterCard Centre, making phone calls, scouring the depth charts of opposing teams and communicating with his management team, the Leafs general manager was busy at work on Tuesday afternoon.
On the ice below, his team continued to work.