By and large, professional sports are a transitory profession. Travel is a constant, even for players established with their respective franchises.
For athletes who don't have the luxury of having a secure roster spot, everything can change in an instant through a transaction. Trades, free agency and assignments to minor league affiliates can change a player's world in an instant.
The process is a little slower, and in some ways, excruciating, with waivers. In the NHL, it takes 24 hours for a player to be placed on waivers and to find out if he's been claimed. That's an entire day to mull over the possibility of your life will remain status quo or change in a multitude of fashions.
Penguins left winger Zach Boychuk went through the process when he was placed on waivers by the Hurricanes, Jan. 30. Just over a day later, he was claimed by the Penguins. Earlier today, he talked about the process and how it impacted his life on and off the ice.
How did you initially find out you were placed on waivers?
"For me, it was right after practice. [Hurricanes coach] Kirk Muller pulled me in to the office and sat me down. He told me, most of the time when you put guys on waivers, it’s that they’re not performing or because they did something bad in games. For me, it wasn’t like that for him. He said I basically only got one game and training camp was too short. He just didn’t see where I’d fit on the top two lines. It was nice for him to be honest. When he was talking to me, he was expecting me not to clear waivers. It would be a good thing for my career. It would be a good opportunity for me to move somewhere else and that was before I knew I’d been picked up. It was nice for him to be honest with me."
Up until joining the Penguins, you've spent your entire professional career with the Hurricanes organization. How much of a jolt is it finding you that might change?
"I think everybody wants to stick with the same organization and have success right way. You’re drafted there and brought up there and everything is comfortable for you there. You make a lot of friends. If the world was perfect, you’d stick with the same organization. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes it’s a blessing to get a new opportunity and learn some different things from new coaches and new teammates. For me, it’s been great coming here."
It takes 24 hours between being placed on waivers and finding out if you've been claimed. What is that time span like?
"It’s very nerve-wracking. My agent was basically on the phone calling every team that he can basically trying to push for me to get a team to like me and get a team to say they’ll claim me. I didn’t have one specific team say flat-out out they’ll take me. Some guys that does happen to. It was almost a sleepless night not knowing. Once noon game, I found out a minute before on Twitter that I was getting picked up by a team. I didn’t know what team. I basically had to wait for [Penguins general manager] Ray Shero to call me and tell me that I was a Pittsburgh Penguin."
You talked to Carolina management and Penguins management after you found out you were claimed. What were those conversations like?
"It was nice talking to Carolina. They didn’t really want me to but at the same time they were happy for me. They were actually [joking] not to try too hard against them when we play them and not make them look bad. It was a good conversation. I thanked them for the start to my career and drafting me and making me the player I am today. Moving on to Ray, it was a great conversation with him. He was really excited to pick me up. He knew that I could bring my speed and bring a few different elements to the team here. He basically said, ‘Play your game and I think you’ll be playing some pretty good players early on.’"
What was the process of physically getting to Pittsburgh like?
"I was in Raleigh the night I got put on waivers. That night, I grabbed all my stuff from the hotel there, drove to Charlotte. I had two bags packed. I had one bag to go to Oklahoma City to meet the AHL team. And I had the other bag packed prepared to go somewhere else. I didn’t know if I was going out west. I didn’t know if I was going up to Canada. I didn’t know where I was going. Once I found out, I talked to [Penguins Manager of Team Services] Jimmy Britt. At first, we were thinking about flying. But then I talked to [former teammate] Brandon Sutter and he said that it actually wasn’t that bad of a drive. I was at home in home in Charlotte where my apartment is, packed up all my stuff and threw it in my car. Now, I’m living with Brandon."
It's not just a matter of packing up your equipment. You have your life away from the rink to bring up here as well. What's that like?
"Yeah, I’ve always kind of lived out of a suitcase the last few years so packing wasn’t that difficult. I tried to make sure not to bring too much stuff. Lots of clothing, blankets and pillows. I fit everything I could – equipment, sticks – into my little car and tried to get out of there. I was just renting furniture. I didn’t have to put it in storage or try to get a U-Haul or anything."
You probably knew how to navigate Raleigh or Charlotte and where to go to eat or shop. What's it like trying get used to a new city in that respect?
"I’m lucky nowadays with technology so good, you can type navigation into your phone, you can get around. Also, with Brandon here, he’s been showing me around getting to the rink and the airport and stuff like that. But I’m still looking forward to touring the city a little bit and finding some good lunch spots and some good places to get some dinner. The guys have been pretty good about telling me places to go."
Pittsburgh as a unique geography with hills and rivers. What is it like navigating this city?
"I think some of it's confusing. The overpasses all over the city and going through tunnels. It’s not too bad. Brandon knows his way around here really, really good and he’s only been here a couple of months. I don’t understand how he gets it that good. It might take me a little longer than it took him. Definitely a beautiful city once you come through that tunnel and see the rivers and all the hills and stuff."
(Photos: First-Justin K. Aller/Getty Images; Second-Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)