Inside the Mind of Mike Sillinger, the Most Traded Player in NHL History

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterFebruary 27, 2015

9 Nov 1999: Mike Sillinger #26 of the Tampa Bay Lightning controls the puck during the game against the Washington Capitals at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. The Capitals defeated the Lightning 2-1.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Mike Sillinger was traded an NHL record nine times during his career. Eight of those nine trades required Sillinger and his family to relocate to a new a city in the middle of a season. Despite his nomadic status—he played for a record 12 teams—Sillinger had 240 goals and 548 points over 1,049 games across 17 seasons.

With the NHL's trade deadline Monday, most fans will look at how new players fit with new teams. Will he work well on a second or third line with these guys? Does he put this team over the top?

Besides the hockey element, there's also the human side to players being traded. Sillinger began dating his wife, Karla, during his final junior season with the Regina Pats, where he works today in the role of scouting and recruitment. They married in 1994 and have three children—Owen, 17, Lukas, 14, and Cole, 11.

What's it like to pack up and move so many times? What's that stress like on a marriage? Sillinger talked about that and more below.

Q: What's the most difficult thing about being traded mid-season so many times?

Mike Sillinger: I think the biggest thing is, and I've explained this several times, it's probably more difficult for your family. I was traded nine times and more often than not, I was traded from a non-playoff team to a playoff team. In my situation, it was kind of an exciting time of year. It was a fresh start. That's how you have to look at it.

But for the family...at the end of my career, I think the kids had just started school. Just grade school, so it wasn't that big of a deal. These kids are resilient. They can just pick up and move. For the most part, it's a lot tougher on the family than it was on myself. Any team I went to, I knew there were 22 guys there to welcome you with open arms and be part of the team.

Mid-season trades involving Mike Sillinger
DateOriginal teamNew teamAge
April 1995DetroitAnaheim23
March 1996AnaheimVancouver24
February 1998VancouverPhiladelphia26
December 1998PhiladelphiaTampa Bay27
March 2000Tampa BayFlorida28
March 2001FloridaOttawa29
March 2004PhoenixNashville32
January 2006NashvilleSt. Louis34

My wife, we've been married 20 years, so I think the biggest thing she understood was it was a business. Whether I was traded because I wasn't paying well or I was traded because I was playing well, at the end of the day, we treated it as a business. She knew the commitment level it took to play at that level. 

The biggest reason for my longevity was I never took a day for granted. I always thought it was an honor and a privilege to play in the National Hockey League. The reason being is I approached every day that it was going to be my last.

Q: When you have your first child, how does that change how it feels to be traded?

Mike Sillinger: It was back in 1997 in Vancouver. It wasn't really until then that we really understood it was a business. My wife and I were married when I played in Detroit and it was kind of weird. We were dating, the whole deal. I was up and down (AHL to NHL). I won a Calder Cup my first year pro when I turned 20 with Adirondack and I was married at the age of 23. At the age of 26, we had our first child. 

So it probably wasn't until then, when I played for Vancouver and I was 26 years old that I realized, "Holy cow, it's a business."

When I got traded from Detroit to Anaheim, that's when my wife and I bought our first house. It's California. It's almost like it wasn't real. We're living in Anaheim Hills, California, we had a young team. We were all like 18 years old to 25. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks were a young team so there were a bunch of young couples. All the guys were pretty much the same age and it was almost like it wasn't real. Here we are playing in California, my wife and I buy this house, people come down to visit us. It was almost like we were playing hockey in Disneyland. It wasn't like it was real. I said, "Wow, this isn't a bad life."

Then, boom, traded from Anaheim to Vancouver. Then coaching and management changed and they fired me off to Philly.

And that was tough, because we just had our first child in '97 and when I took off, my wife was like, "Hey, I'm not staying here. I'm packing and I'm coming." We were renting at the time, so when you're renting, that's another way to make it easier to pick up and move. 

Q: Was that the hardest move on your wife? Cross-continent move, new child?

14 Nov 1996:  Center Mike Sillinger of the Vancouver Canucks is double-teamed by left wing Kevin Stevens and right wing Steve Thomas of the New Jersey Devils during a game at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Canucks won
Al Bello/Getty Images

Mike Sillinger: I think the hardest trade was moving from Anaheim to Vancouver, the reason being we knew we were going to start a family and we had that house and...I don't want to say things were perfect, but they were pretty good. 

When I moved from Anaheim to Vancouver, the weather was dreary and cloudy. I was really excited. As a Canadian boy, growing up and there's nothing better than having that ability to play on Hockey Night in Canada. And in Vancouver, we were always the second game, all the time. We weren't competing with the teams out East so we were always that second game on Hockey Night in Canada.

For me, I really loved it because of the pressure to perform and you're always under the gun and you're like, "Wow, I'm playing hockey for a Canadian team."

So when we moved from Vancouver to Philly, yeah, I think it was tough because of our first born, the whole deal. But I think it was a little bit of a...I don't want to say a breath of fresh air, but my wife went from living in a sunny, not real...when I say not real, I mean you get to play the game you love in sunny California. You're driving to the rink, there's no snow, it's perfect every day.

There's palm trees outside the rink, then you go to Vancouver and it rains every day and it's dreary and it's cold. But everywhere you went in Vancouver, everyone knew who you were. You go from one extreme to where no one knows who the hell you are in Anaheim to the other extreme where everyone knows who you are. I was a third- or fourth-line guy but it didn't matter. Everyone knew who you were. They followed you and knew everything about you.

I think that, not that it got to my wife, but it was just to the point where it was a little more private in certain areas (in Anaheim). When we moved to Philly with Owen, it was like, "Yeah, we gotta move this and this." Once we started building on the family, I think that's what took a lot out of my wife. For her, she understood she had to be very, very supportive and the one thing we always discussed as a couple was no matter where I ended up she wasn't going to live in the place that I had previously come from. She was always going to come on. So we'd close up shop and away we'd move.

The only time she didn't do that was in (January 2006) when I was traded from St. Louis to Nashville. It's only four hours down the road and the kids are in school. So I was traded about a month before the deadline. Doug Weight went to Carolina and I went to Nashville. But she didn't move because she was just driving back and forth because it was just easier to keep the kids in school.

These things are tough to explain, as far as how tough was it for me. As a person, well, it was tough. But for me, I had my biggest supporter taking care of all the stuff away from hockey; the kids, the moving, everything else. So I knew it was going to be taken care of. It was a lot easier to have my partner and wife and the one I love to deal with moving the family.

30 Oct 2001:  Center Mike Sillinger #16 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates towards the play against right wing Trent Klatt #26 of the Vancouver Canucks during the NHL game at GM Place in Vancouver, Canada.  The Canucks defeated the Blue Jackets 3-1.  Man
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Q: I assume that even though you were traded so often, you were successful enough that your wife never asked you to hang up your skates at any point.

Mike Sillinger: I don't care how many teams I played for or how much I was traded. The way I look at it, it was my contract status. Out of the nine times I was traded, I'll say seven were because of my contract status. They were business decisions. It wasn't if Mike Sillinger was playing good or bad, it was, "Hey, how does he fit into our lineup? How does his salary fit into our lineup?"

I could see as a player if you weren't mentally tough, how it could wear on a guy, going home and saying, "I'm moving again." Even at times, I think the media wanted me to kind of be, not embarrassed, but embarrassed like, "Hey, you're moving again, it's trade deadline day." Yeah, maybe I am. Who knows? It became a joke after a while. But I'd just brush it off.

I could see how if you weren't strong mentally and didn't have a good partner as far as your wife or spouse supporting you and family that understood what was going on, I could see how it could wear and tear on your mentally. Again, the reason for my longevity was I had a wife and a family that supported every trade.

Q: Was it hard for her in that when you go to a new city, there's probably an ex-teammate you know, but was it hard for her in terms of making and keeping and losing friends so often?

Mike Sillinger: That's the biggest thing. I've always met people. Basically, her friends are my hockey friends. If we ever had a chance to meet people on the street or away from hockey, it was almost like we didn't want to be the couple that got too close because it was like, "Are they hockey fans?" Not that you didn't trust them, but we just didn't become too close to people who were outside of hockey.

Her friends were pretty much my hockey friends. And you really had no choice. And what I mean by you had no choice, they're my teammates. When you're with 22 guys and they have wives and girlfriends, that's part of the business. That's what hockey guys do. They want to make sure everyone feels welcome and everyone gets along. That doesn't always happen all the time so you're right, my wife never really had any so-called close friends outside of hockey.

Inside of hockey, she still stays in touch with hockey friends. Her and Kelly Chase's wife, as well. She does have some good so-called hockey friends but outside of hockey, that was the toughest thing for my wife. She couldn't really get close to anyone.

PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 12: Mike Sillinger #18 of the New York Islanders skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during their game on November 12, 2007 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Islanders 3-2. (Photo by Jim M
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Q: What was the longest you went without your family in the same city after you were traded? 

Mike Sillinger: When I went from St. Louis to Nashville, that was the longest. I played about 30 games for Nashville and I stayed in a hotel. So when the kids come down, they had Opryland there, so it was great for the kids. That was the longest, about three months. She visited but they stayed in St. Louis, finished school. That was the one time I can remember we stayed away the longest from each other.

Q: Was the three months away from the kids the hardest part?

Mike Sillinger: That's why she stayed there and visited a lot. The kids are like, "Let's go watch dad. Let's go see dad." They liked going to Nashville. They like going to hotels. It was like a holiday for them. That's just the commitment we made to each other. No matter where we move, where I went, we weren't going to be apart from each other. That's what a relationship is all about—supporting each other. 

When you're apart, it's not good for anyone. It's not good for your relationship, it's not good for the kids, it's not good for anything. 

Q: With your kids getting older toward the end of your career, was the moving getting harder on them?

Mike Sillinger: Yeah, it was very hard. That's the big reason why my wife stayed in St. Louis. I was having one my best seasons ever in St. Louis. I had 22 goals (in 48 games) and I was on to a 30-goal season at the age of 34. There was speculation that I was going to sign in St. Louis. "They're not going to trade Mike Sillinger, blah blah blah." Long story short, that's what happened. 

That's a big reason why my wife stayed in St. Louis because she had friends. She had a support cast. I remember Dallas Drake's wife was very close to Karla and all the wives were good there. The kids liked the school they were at and that's a big reason why we didn't move to Nashville. I was a free agent at the end of the year anyway.

As I got older and the kids got older and they started school, my wife was always concerned about it being tough on the kids. They're resilient little guys so there were no issues because they felt calm and protected.

ST. LOUIS - JANUARY 26: Mike Sillinger #18 of the St. Louis Blues skates to the puck during the game against the Phoenix Coyotes on January 26, 2006 at the Savvis Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The Phoenix Coyotes defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-3. (Photo
Elsa/Getty Images

Q: With all the trades, did you just rent during your career after buying the house in Anaheim?

Mike Sillinger: I rented that house out for a few years and kept it because I thought we were going to come back and you know that works out, you never go back there. Sold that house out in California. I rented in Vancouver, rented in Philly. I went from Philly to Tampa and we were going to buy a house there but we rented for a couple years. Went I went from Tampa to Florida, I bought a house in Florida. After a year and a half, I was traded from Florida to Ottawa for a couple months, a cup of coffee. From Ottawa I signed as a free agent in Columbus, so we bought a place in Columbus. And I was in Columbus for two or three years and that's where our youngest, Cole, was born.

After Columbus, we pretty much bought a place in every other destination. The biggest thing is you want make your home a home. So when we rented at times, we didn't feel like it was ours. It wasn't our furniture, it wasn't our stuff. That's another thing my wife and I said to each other. Wherever we go, we're going to make it feel like it's our home.

Q: What's the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is about to be traded for the first time over the next few days?

Mike Sillinger: The best piece of advice is don't feel sorry for yourself. I think that's what happens is when guys get traded, whether they like it don't, they have to welcome it as a new opportunity. Whether you're traded because you're playing good or not playing good, it doesn't matter. That's the way I always looked at it, that it was a new opportunity for Mike Sillinger, to be a big part of a new team.

When you feel sorry for yourself, what's going to happen is there is going to be someone trying to take your job. And I was one of those guys. Whatever team I went to I was like, "Hey, I want your job. I'm on the fourth line now? I'm going to be on the second line by the end of the week or the end of the month." I was always pushing to be a top-line guy. The moment you feel sorry for yourself and you think the game owes you something, it owes you nothing because someone there is going to take your job. It's a business. 

That's the thing a lot of kids don't realize is, it's a business. I had to learn it the hard way. You can control two things: your attitude and your work ethic. If you can control those, you'll have longevity.

All statistics via NHL.com and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com. Cap information via Spotrac.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.


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