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Sillinger Is Playing Below Expectations

February 24, 1996|Robyn Norwood

It was the kind of trade that makes Red Wings executive Jimmy Devellano squirm in his chair.

Last April, with Coach Scotty Bowman looking for some playoff toughness, Detroit traded young center Mike Sillinger and young defenseman Jason York to the Mighty Ducks for tough guy Stu Grimson.

"It made me very, very nervous, because I was afraid Mike and Jason would play the next 10 years and might be pretty good," said Devellano, a former Red Wings' general manager who's now a senior vice president working with Bowman, coach and director of player personnel.

Devellano isn't so nervous anymore--not when he sees Sillinger saddled with a 23-game goal drought and a plus-minus rating of minus-21. Sillinger played Friday against Calgary and had a few chances at a breakthrough goal, but he's no longer a regular. He has played in only four of the last eight games.

"I'm surprised; I thought he would have done better," said Devellano, who drafted Sillinger in the first round, 11th overall, in 1989 and still calls him "one of my boys."

In Detroit, Sillinger was stuck behind Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Keith Primeau and Kris Draper.

The players in front of him now have somewhat less famous names: Steve Rucchin, Shaun Van Allen, David Sacco and J.F. Jomphe.

"The thing that disappoints me, I think, is that I thought that he could go to a team like Anaheim and be a second- or at least a third-line centerman and be pretty effective," Devellano said. "The thing I've noticed watching Mike is he doesn't seem to compete hard enough, as hard as I think you need to in the NHL. I don't know why that is, because he's a terrific young man."


The Ducks figured Sillinger, 24, could be a 70-point scorer, given the chance to play. Instead, he has 11 goals and 28 points.

"He's certainly not playing the way he was last year," Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira said.

Sillinger is trying to prove this is only a slump, not his true self showing through.

"I'm not too happy. I don't think anybody would be happy," he said. "In Detroit, when I was sitting out, it was a numbers game. Now I'm sitting out and that's not the problem.

"When we had all those injuries, my ice time increased. You feel like you have to give something extra to the team. You start to press. Maybe cheat a little bit defensively or offensively. But you can't do that in this league. There are too many good players. I think that's when my game took a turn.

"All of a sudden, you're getting heat because you're not producing offensively and for being minus. What happens is you start playing scared, thinking every time you step on the ice that you might get scored on. Then you're in trouble, because this game is all mental."

Sillinger and Coach Ron Wilson had an hourlong meeting recently to try to get him back on track. Sillinger was a phenomenal minor league scorer and had 11 goals this season by early December.

"I was really getting nervous then," Devellano said. "Because, holy cow, he looked like he was going to get 20 or 25 goals."

Now it's Sillinger who is nervous.

"Paul Coffey always said this, 'It's tough to make it to the NHL, but it's even harder to stay.' Each and every day, young kids are coming up trying to take your job. We're all teammates, but we're all fighting for jobs," Sillinger said.


Stats of the Week: The Mighty Duck power play is still last in the NHL, and the hole the Ducks have dug is probably too deep to end up any higher than next-to-last.

But there has been progress. The Ducks were at 10.8% when point man Fredrik Olausson joined the team Jan. 16. Since he's been here, they have gone 10 for 67 (14.9%). With Teemu Selanne in the lineup, the power play has scored on four of 28 opportunities (14.3%).


Reason No. Umpteen of the umpteen-and-20 reasons the Mighty Ducks aren't trying to trade for Wayne Gretzky: "That would be a wasted phone call," Ferreira said. "[Kings General Manager Sam McMaster] isn't going to trade Gretzky to us."

A trade is out of the question, but should Gretzky become a free agent this summer, it wouldn't be a stretch for the Ducks to put in a bid--though probably a low one--on the chance he might want to stay in Southern California.

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