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Isles' Sillinger announces retirement after 17 seasons

by John McGourty
New York Islanders center Mike Sillinger, who set the NHL record by playing for 12 different teams, announced his retirement Wednesday after 17 seasons.

Sillinger, 38, played only seven games for the Islanders last season before undergoing season-ending hip resurfacing surgery surgery on Jan. 26. He had missed the first 24 games of the season after an earlier hip surgery. Sillinger had been in pain for some time before that and now has a titanium implant in the joint.

He said if he returned to hockey and re-injured himself, he would have faced hip-replacement surgery before the age of 40.

"To play the sport of hockey, something I’ve had a passion for all my life, at the professional level for the past 17 years and to be able to support my family has been a dream come true,” Sillinger said. "From playing this game I have met some of my best friends and will cherish the memories we made forever.”

Islanders General Manager Garth Snow played with Sillinger in Vancouver. He said the emerging young talent in the Islanders' organization benefitted from their exposure to Sillinger's professionalism.

"I'd like to congratulate you on behalf of the Islanders' organization," Snow told Sillinger. "We played together briefly in Vancouver and I saw what a great teammate you were, how great you were in the locker room. You had longevity and tremendous talent. All of your teammates loved you and we thoroughly enjoyed having you as part of this organization.

"... We were very fortunate to have Mike as part of our organization and there will be a lasting effect in the impressions he left on our younger players."

Sillinger was selected by the Detroit Red Wings with the No. 11 pick in the 1989 Entry Draft after three tremendous seasons with his hometown Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. He had 240 goals and 308 assists for 548 points in 1,049 NHL games. An extremely versatile player, Sillinger had 69 power-play goals, 24 shorthanded goals and 25 game-winning goals in his career. He added 11 goals and seven assists for 18 points in 43 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Sillinger played 125 games for the Red Wings in parts of five seasons, but never caught on there because of a glut of NHL-quality centers, including Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Kris Draper, Keith Primeau, Slava Kozlov, Tim Taylor, and Jimmy Carson.

He was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in April 1995 and then began the life of a nomad hockey player, plying his skills for the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and the Islanders.

Six times he was traded at or just before the trading deadline, prompting him to tell several years ago, "Nobody wants me in July, but everybody has to have me in March!" Fourteen NHL players were swapped for Sillinger in those deals.

"Everybody always asks me about playing for 12 teams, but what they forget is that I was signed as a free agent three times and from those three times I played on six teams in six months. Through my whole career, I was seen as a role player, someone who could play on the second line or the fourth line, could play the penalty kill or the power play and could win faceoffs. I've played with top-line guys and bottom-line guys as well.

"It was something that I was very proud of and I was proud to do my job. ... Trades are just part of the business. I learned to accept them and see them as a new beginning. When you feel sorry for yourself in this business, someone will take your job. I tried to have a good attitude and tried to be positive every day."

Earlier in his career, Sillinger did express frustration at never having had a chance to be a first-line NHL center, but then that opportunity came with the 2005-06 Blues, when he had 22 goals and 19 assists for 41 points, before going to the Predators at the trading deadline. He added 10 goals and 12 assists for a career-high 32 goals and 63 points.
"To play the sport of hockey, something I’ve had a passion for all my life, at the professional level for the past 17 years and to be able to support my family has been a dream come true.  From playing this game I have met some of my best friends and will cherish the memories we made forever." - Mike Sillinger

That prompted the Islanders to sign him on July 2, 2006. The 141 games Sillinger played for the Islanders were the most of any team he played for and he posted 42 goals and 45 assists for 87 points. He had a high of 26 goals and 33 assists for the Islanders in 2006-07, before the hip became a major problem.

He was asked if the prominent role with the Blues made teams see him a new light, perhaps remind them of the player who starred in Regina before being bottle-necked in Detroit.

"What I was very proud of was every year I got better," Sillinger said. "When I got to be 30, people started saying, 'Well, he's old,' but I just kept getting better. I think that goes back to the Detroit days and being with those Hall of Fame guys, seeing their work ethic."

"Obviously, this is a big hole to fill," Snow said. "Mike was good at many different things as a hockey player, putting puck in the net or winning a key faceoff. It's a hole we'll try to have to fill and we'll try to fill it with the group we have. You don't play that many years without being a special player."

Sillinger said he will be moving back to Regina, where he and his wife, Karla, a Regina native, have enrolled their three sons in school. He said he hasn't decided on future plans but if he decides to return to hockey it will only be if he feels "the passion" for the game again.

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