Lilja back in Florida
On the phone was Dave Taylor, the general manager of Lilja's team in November, 2002, the Los Angeles Kings. Lilja took Taylor's call while car shopping. Taylor had called to say that he had just traded Lilja to the Florida Panthers.
"It's was pretty tough because that was my first trade," said Lilja. "It felt kind of weird. My wife was pretty devastated. We were living in L.A. and she liked it. She wasn't expecting it. I wasn't expecting it."
As Lilja returns to southeastern Florida today as a Detroit Red Wing for his team's game against the host Panthers tonight (7:30 p.m., FSN), there aren't many familiar faces left in the Panthers' locker room. Stephen Weiss. Jay Bouwmeester. Nathan Horton.
Other than that, there aren't many holdovers from Lilja's two years in Florida.
The memory, however, of his first game as a Panther is vivid. For that contest, Lilja didn't have to travel cross-country, just down the hall. Lilja's first game as a Panther was against his former team, the Kings, in Los Angeles.
"It was really weird," said Lilja. "But it was fun too. I think it was one of my best games. I was running people left and right."
Back in Lilja's native Sweden, trades are uncommon. If a player is transferred from one club to another, it's most likely that the reason was something personal like lack of playing time or conflict with the coach, according to Lilja. Trades are rarely made to shift personnel in the hope of improving a roster.
Back in the fall of 2002, Lilja was playing on the Kings' top defense pairing alongside Mattias Norstrom. At that point, Lilja had a 45-game NHL career. He went on to play 135 games in just under two seasons with the Panthers.
After moving across the nation, Lilja said the adjustment to a new locker room didn't take long.
"It goes pretty quick," said Lilja, who signed as a free agent with Detroit after the lockout ended in 2005. "We're all used to it, used to seeing new people. It's different around here (in Detroit). On other teams, you're used to seeing a couple of new guys every year, other guys disappear. You get used to it."