Roman Hamrlik had heard the rumors for some time.
But even after the Lightning traded its first draft pick and a prospect Tuesday to Edmonton for veteran defenseman Bryan Marchment and young centers Steve Kelly and Jason Bonsignore, he could not believe it.
"Shocked," Hamrlik said Tuesday night, a few hours after coming home from a fishing trip near his Lutz home to hear the news he dreaded.
"It's amazing. I can't think I would ever be traded. I thought I could play 10, 15 years here. But coaches get fired. Players get traded. That's the life."
By the time Hamrlik ran into a neighbor, Lightning wing Louie DeBrusk, life's realities had set in.
"How's it going?" DeBrusk asked. "Bad day," Hamrlik answered. "Didn't catch any fish?" DeBrusk asked. "No, got traded," Hamrlik said. "Now I'll be ice fishing."
Hamrlik and unsigned 1997 ninth-round draft pick Paul Comrie, a center, go to an Edmonton team winless in six games. In return, the NHL's last-place team gets a defenseman known for hard, and sometimes controversial, hits and two centers who are ex-first-round draft picks.
"It was time to pull the trigger," said Lightning general manager Phil Esposito, resigned that the struggling team had to make the trade. "It was time to do it."
Hamrlik, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft, reluctantly concurred: "I guess it's time to move on. Hopefully it will be better there."
The Lightning's biggest fear is Hamrlik will play much better in Edmonton, so much so it may someday regret trading the Czech defenseman who came to Tampa Bay as a 18-year-old unable to speak English.
Hamrlik, now a fluent 23-year-old, was an All-Star with 65 points two seasons ago. But he never developed into the player many thought he would, and he struggled under ex-coach Terry Crisp.
His play in his last game with the Lightning, a 2-1 victory over San Jose on Monday, sums up his woes: He pinched in to keep the puck in the Sharks' zone on Dino Ciccarelli's game-winner but was minus-1 on the night.
That made him minus-18 for the season, pushing his career number to minus-106.
Yet some believe Hamrlik will bring Edmonton many pluses.
"You might go five, 10 years running a team in this league and not get a shot at a guy like this. He's a world-class hockey player," said Oilers GM Glen Sather, who knows Hamrlik has struggled. "You don't get a shot at him if he is playing well. These guys just don't come around. I don't want to put a whole lot of pressure on him, but I will."
Similar expectation may have been Hamrlik's biggest enemy in Tampa Bay.
""When you're a No. 1 pick overall, a franchise player, there may have been a lot of pressure on him that he could not handle," Lightning coach Jacques Demers said.
Little changed after Demers became coach in November, so the Lightning moved.
"We gave up, in my estimation, a quality player who might develop into being a great player in this league. And I wish he does," said Esposito, directed this month by Lightning president Steve Oto to improve the NHL's lowest scoring offense with a major deal. "But we had to address a problem that we've had in this team: center ice."
Esposito said other deals are still possible, but reports wing Jason Wiemer may go to the New York Islanders for center Travis Green are not true. But with the deal that was done, the Lightning focussed on its biggest need.
With Chris Gratton in Philadelphia, franchise scoring leader Brian Bradley hurt and John Cullen fighting cancer, Daymond Langkow was the Lightning's only natural center.
Enter 21-year-old Kelly, a speedy Vancouver native taken sixth overall by Edmonton in 1995 _ one pick after Langkow.
"Steve Kelly," Esposito said, "was a player that we debated over hot and heavy at the draft table."
"I don't really know how to feel," said Kelly, a playmaker who has played just 19 games this season. "It's the first time I've been traded. I'm excited to go there, and maybe get a new shot at the year."
Bonsignore, 21, gets a new shot, too. He has played 21 NHL games, none since 1995-96, and was with San Antonio of the IHL. Esposito called him "a chance we're willing to take."
Anyone who gets in Marchment's way also takes a chance.
The $1.125-million defenseman, a 28-year-old from Ontario, is a tough stay-at-home guy. Recently suspended three games for his knee-to-knee check on Dallas' Mike Modano, Demers called him "one of the most hated players in the National Hockey League."
He is also one of the happier.
"(The trade) is kind of shocking," said Marchment, who played also has played in Winnipeg, Chicago and Hartford. "At least I know I don't need my ice breaker to go fishing anymore."