"You went from a situation in Dallas where you were getting a lot of minutes and playing in those situations to suddenly not getting them [in Chicago], and for me to say I didn't lose confidence? I lost a lot of confidence," the 32-year-old defenseman said this week over the phone from Pittsburgh, where he has rediscovered that confidence.
The Dec. 14 trade from the Blackhawks to the Penguins in exchange for Rob Scuderi was an absolute godsend for Daley, his old self rediscovered in a Penguins uniform. He's playing a ton -- fourth on the team in minutes per game -- he's playing in all situations, and his natural skating ability and puck-moving skills have come to the forefront on a surging Penguins team looking a lot faster under coach Mike Sullivan.
"I have always liked Daley," one rival Eastern Conference GM said via text message. "Good skater, more a secondary power-play player. Might lack a little vision but uses his skating to generate offense. Looks like a good fit in Pittsburgh -- exactly what they needed."
Added former Penguins forward Bob Errey, an analyst for the team's game broadcasts: "He's been a great fit for the Penguins. Just a great skater, a lot of deception on the blue line, quick feet, very elusive, quick getting the puck out of his zone. He's been really good for the Penguins. He's confident. Just a perfect place for him here in Pittsburgh. I'm surprised it didn't work out for him in Chicago, but he's been a great pickup for the Penguins."
He just never fit in with the Blackhawks. Finding a niche behind top minute-eating defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson can be daunting. There's also the notion that once coach Joel Quenneville makes up his mind on a player, it's hard to change it, and some people feel maybe that happened in this case. But after Quenneville won three Stanley Cups in six seasons, far be it for me to question the future Hall of Fame bench boss.
Whatever the case, it just wasn't working in Chicago for Daley. It's why Daley is grateful to Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman for trading him so quickly.
"I'm very thankful that Stan gave me an opportunity to move on," Daley said. "He could have just left me sitting where I was sitting, at the end of the bench. I wish I had bad things to say about that situation but I don't."
He really doesn't. Daley looks back on his 29-game stint in Chicago and is able to carry the positives away from it.
"I took a lot out of being in Chicago," Daley said. "I wasn't there for very long, but I went there with an open mind because there had to be something these guys are doing so well that they win every year. So I was excited about the Chicago situation. Unfortunately there just wasn't much opportunity there, or the opportunity I thought would be there just wasn't there. But I still take the experience, and I still learned a lot from being there and from the coaching staff that's there.
"There's a reason that team is so great," Daley said. "A great bunch of guys, great leadership, right from management down you could see right away with those guys have been so successful."
In Pittsburgh, Daley has fit like a glove. Consider that since the trade, according to war-on-ice.com, the Penguins control 54.8 percent of the even-strength shot attempts; before the trade, 49 percent. The Penguins were 15-11-3 when they got Daley; since then they've gone 25-13-5.
Now, as Daley himself will tell you, his trade to Pittsburgh also coincided with a coaching change two days earlier, and the Penguins have been a different team under Sullivan.
"When I got to Pittsburgh, I think I came into a good situation with the coaching chance and everybody looking for a fresh start," said Daley, a Toronto native. "I just kind of got lucky and joined the crowd in that way. Everybody was basically starting fresh with the new coach. Because of that I think the opportunity was great for myself."
Daley's skating ability meshes well with the fast, up-tempo style the team is playing.
"You look at our back end -- we're not the most physical group that you see out there, but we can all skate and we can all move the puck," said Daley. "I think that philosophy that Mike wants as a group, we've got such skill and great forwards who can skate, having the ability to get pucks to them feeds into our system."
Life with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is pretty darn fun. Within 12 months, Daley has gone from playing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in Dallas to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago and now Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh.
"The thing I have found in having the opportunity to play with all six of those guys is that they are all so competitive," Daley said. "It's what makes them all so great. It's fun to watch. To be friends with them all now, too ... to think I've played with all six, I'm pretty fortunate."