Sunday night, Mike Sillinger got a call from his then-general manager, Larry Pleau. Pleau told the St. Louis Blues forward that he'd been traded to Nashville, and that he should phone Predators GM David Poile. After speaking with Poile, Sillinger then received a call from Predators head coach Barry Trotz. The turn of events caught the 34-year-old NHL journeyman off guard.
"I was surprised at the whole deal," Sillinger said after his first practice with the Predators on Tuesday. "It was one of those things where, did I expect to go somewhere? Probably. At what point in time, who knows? But when I got the call Sunday night I definitely was surprised."
Sillinger joins the Predators in the midst of the most productive season of his 15-year NHL career. In 48 games with the Blues this season, he had posted 22 goals and 19 assists for 41 points. For his career, he has 439 points (188g-251a) in 877 games, with his previous best single-season performance coming in 1999-2000, when he registered 52 points in 80 games split between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Ever since I went from Phoenix to St. Louis [via a March 2004 trade], the coaching staff put full confidence in my game," Sillinger explained when asked why he's having such a successful 2005-06 season. "They played me important minutes. I played power play, killed penalties, played anywhere from 18 to 22 minutes a game. That was the case right from Day One. I guess in St. Louis I played with a lot of great players. I played with [Keith] Tkachuk, Dougie Weight, Dallas Drake, Scott Young, and this year I got 11 power play goals. I think when the power play is clicking, someone is going to be getting the power play goals. And it's been my case in St. Louis."
When the 5'11", 196-pound native of Regina, Sask., pulls on his Predators jersey and steps on the ice with his new team Wednesday night in Dallas, he will officially have played for his 11th NHL club--a new NHL record. He credits his versatility as the reason he's been sought by a number of teams.
"I would say that's probably a big reason why I've moved to so many different places," the four-time 20-goal scorer said. "I can play center ice. I can play right wing. I broke into the league as a penalty killer, and have pretty much killed penalties in the National Hockey League for 14 years. Power play time, I've always seen power play time, whether it's been the first unit or second unit. Hopefully I can continue in my same role here in Nashville and do whatever it takes to win. It's not about the ice time. Again, I'm not here to take anyone's ice time. I'm here to help this hockey club win. Obviously the Stanley Cup is the main focus, and we've got a great team here. So it's not about how much ice time Mike Sillinger gets. It's about Mike Sillinger helping the Nashville Predators win."
"He's good on face-offs, he can score goals, play offense, defense, kill penalties, power play," team captain Greg Johnson said. "He's just kind of a well-rounded player. A solid player that can really help a team like ours."
Trotz sees Sillinger playing essentially the same role that has made him so successful in St. Louis this season. To start, the Nashville head coach plans to slot Sillinger between wingers Steve Sullivan and Scott Walker, two players Sillinger has played with in his nomadic past.
"I'm going to get a chance to play with Sullivan and Walker [Wednesday] night, so those are two great players," Sillinger said. "Hopefully we can click [Wednesday] night. I played with Sullivan at the World Championships for Team Canada in the year 2000, and I played with Scottie Walker with the Vancouver Canucks. So I'm familiar with them both a little bit."
But that familiarity was not a factor when Trotz formulated the line.
"I just thought that [the first line] of Yanic [Perreault] and [Martin] Erat and [Paul] Kariya have been pretty good together, so there's no sense breaking that up. As I said to Mike and everybody, I'll move our centers around. If I don't like the match-ups I'm getting, I generally just change the centerman, and let the wingers stay. You could see Yanic between Kariya and Erat, or you could see Sillinger between them. Just like in Detroit, I put [Jerred] Smithson in between them and they were fine. I'm just going to move the centermen around."
Getting acclimated with his new teammates and the team's systems are going to be the biggest challenges for Sillinger, but he says coming well before the March 9 trading deadline and ahead of the two-week Olympic break should ensure that he will be fully plugged in when the playoffs arrive.
"A lot of my trades when I'd go from a non-playoff team to a playoff team happened a little closer to the deadline," Sillinger said. "So it's kind of nice that I've got a lot of games to gel with the guys. I'm very happy this is happening before the break. We've got a lot of hockey, but they're all big conference games."
On the home front, you'd expect the well-traveled Sillinger family to be pros at picking up the stakes and moving. Sillinger confirms as much, explaining that the reaction to his latest trade differs a bit between his wife and his three young boys.
"The family's good," he said. "It's getting tougher and tougher on my wife. The boys are fine with it. They're only 8, 5, and 2, so they're pretty excited. They're coming here on Thursday and will get new jerseys and whatnot. They've got a lot of jerseys, so they're very excited. They check the standings and see that the Predators are a good team, so they're pretty happy."