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Sillinger would welcome return

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 10, 2001


Mike Sillinger likes the road the Lightning is traveling with the acquisition of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, and said he wouldn't mind being along for the ride.

"I'd come back to Tampa, no problem," the former Lightning center said from his home in Regina, Saskatchewan. "I see the direction they're going with getting Khabibulin and with some of the great young players they have there. What I hear is they want a few veterans to stabilize their team."

Sillinger played for Tampa Bay from December 1998 to March 2000, when he was traded to the Panthers for Ryan Johnson and Dwayne Hay. He was traded to the Senators last season, and played in 13 regular-season games and the playoffs.

Sillinger said he does not expect Ottawa to make an offer. If not, he will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 with a price tag of between $1-million and $2-million.

The 29-year-old had 16 goals and 25 assists last season. Even better is his ability to win faceoffs, one of hockey's most important and underrated skills.

Tampa Bay was atrocious on faceoffs last season, winning 46.86 percent, 27th in the 30-team league. Among players taking at least 1,000 draws, Sillinger was No. 3, winning 60.33 percent.

Sillinger, who has a home in Westin near Fort Lauderdale, said he has no hard feelings about being traded from the Lightning.

"It's part of the business," he said. "That's what happens when you don't win, changes are made."

Sillinger said returning could be a change for the better.

"When I was there I didn't think (success) was too far off," he said. "I think Tampa is doing the right thing. You build from the goaltending out."

AWARDS NIGHT: Lightning center Brad Richards is one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy, given to the league's top rookie. The league will announce its annual awards Thursday.

Richards' competition is Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov and Senators left wing Martin Havlat.

The 25-year-old Nabokov (32-21-7 with a 2.19 goals-against average, six shutouts and a .915 save percentage) is considered the favorite.

Richards, 21, led all rookies in points (62), goals (21), assists (41), power-play assists (19) and power-play points (28).

MOGILNY'S PLANS: Agent Mike Barnett said his client, potential unrestricted free agent Alexander Mogilny, would prefer to remain with the Devils.

"Any time you're with a Stanley Cup champion, you're seldom looking to go elsewhere," Barnett said.

As for the other options open to the right wing and 43-goal scorer, including a possible move to Tampa Bay, Barnett said:

"He's under contract to New Jersey, and on that basis alone, not to mention he is in the Stanley Cup final, where he wants to play next year is something for the future."

ESPO REMEMBERS: Former Lightning general manager Phil Esposito was rooting for Avalanche defenseman Ray Bourque to finally win the Stanley Cup. No surprise since Bourque fashioned what Esposito called "the second-biggest thrill I ever got."

Esposito said the first was securing the Tampa Bay franchise. Next was Bourque voluntarily changing his Bruins jersey number from 7 to 77 so Boston could retire No. 7 in Espo's honor.

It was a dramatic moment in December 1987 at center ice of the old Boston Garden. Bourque, wearing No. 77 underneath, pulled the No. 7 jersey off over his head and handed it to Esposito.

"I looked at him and said, "What the f--- are you doing?' " Esposito said. "He said, "This is yours, big fella. It should never have been mine. It's always been yours.' "

Esposito, a radio commentator for the Lightning, got choked up thinking about it.

"He's an unbelievable human being," he said. "That's why my heart wants him to win this."

ASK AWAY: Beginning Monday, fans logged on to http://www.tampabaylightning.com can submit questions about the upcoming draft to general manager Rick Dudley. Answers to selected questions will be posted later in the week.

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