Two years ago, it looked as if Petr Sykora had played his final game in the N.H.L.
After he won his second Stanley Cup, with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, a concussion and a hip injury limited him to 14 games with the Minnesota Wild the next season. For Sykora, a 15-year N.H.L. veteran, retirement grew less abstract.
“I know retirement is coming soon,” Sykora said. “But things in Minnesota didn’t work out the way I wanted to. And it really bothered me big time.”
He added, “I didn’t want to leave the N.H.L. the way I did.”
In late August, Sykora received a text from his agent, telling him to call Lou Lamoriello, the Devils’ president, who drafted Sykora with the 18th overall pick in 1995.
“Lou invited me to camp and I showed up the next day,” Sykora said.
Lamoriello gave Sykora a tryout contract, guaranteeing nothing but a chance to earn a roster spot. In the first team scrimmage, Dainius Zubrus set him up for three goals. Sykora found the back of the net all camp, which secured for him a one-year deal for $650,000.
“It’s all mental,” Sykora said. “Years ago, under a big contract, you know you’re going to play.” This time, he added, “you have to make the first scrimmage, make the first exhibition game, make something happen.”
Devils Coach Pete DeBoer said: “He made a calculated gamble, and it’s paid off. I give him a lot of credit. Not many guys with a career like his would do that.”
Sykora says he wants to score 20 goals this season; he has 13 for the Devils, who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference heading into Friday’s game against another of his former teams, the Anaheim Ducks. He has embraced his role as a secondary scorer behind his former linemate Patrik Elias, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk.
“He’s got such a quick release and he’s smart,” said Ken Daneyko, a Devils television analyst who was Sykora’s teammate for seven years. “He’s never been really fast. Everyone’s about speed nowadays, but he’s a talented hockey player and has filled a void.”
Sykora’s consistency and durability are somewhat surprising, Daneyko added. Sykora has played every game, and his play away from the puck has been noticed.
“I should’ve expected that,” DeBoer said. “You don’t win Stanley Cups unless you’re good defensively.”
And in RUMORS~! time, Patrik Elias might finally get to have more then just +1 Czech teammate with him at all times of his Devils career (I’m pretty sure without double-CZECHing – that if it wasn’t Sykora, it was Karel Rachunek and that’s been it). Do we need Zidlicky on the team? No, probably not, but, hey “former disgruntled Wild Player…” totally worked for us with Sykora, so why the fuck not?
Later, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher laughed and dismissed the possiblity of a trade being imminent, the newspaper reported. Zidlicky badly wants to come to the Devils, in part, because of his friendship with fellow countrymen Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora.
Zidlicky and Wild head coach Mike Yeo have been at odds this season and the pair planned to meet this afternoon, the Star Tribune said. Zidlicky, who scored more than 40 points in three straight seasons before struggling with injuries last season, has played mainly with the third and fourth forward lines this season.
Zidlicky has recently been skating with the top two scoring lines but he remains unhappy. He badly wants to come to the Devils – he friends with fellow countrymen Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora – but the Wild want the best deal possible and will shop him around despite Zidlicky’s no-trade clause.
“(If) you spend most time in our zone, you can’t do anything,” Zidlicky told the Star Tribune on Jan. 31. “It can be anybody. It wasn’t my style. I tried to explain to him couple times, but he wants something different. I don’t think I can change something when you are like 35 years old.”
Yeo shot back, “(Zidlicky’s) play dictates (whether he plays).”
Elias said he actually texted Zidlicky on Tuesday and claimed he was unaware of Zidlicky’s desire to be traded to the Devils. He offered this scouting report on the 35-year-old defenseman.
“I’ve liked him every since I was 14, 15 years old,” Elias said. “We played on the (Czech) national team together. He’s a good player. He’s got great hockey sense. He’s a righty shot. Offensively, he’s very good. He plays mean when he wants to. He can be a little (agitator).
“But all that said, he’s not here yet.”
The possibility of Marek Zidlicky coming to the Devils in a trade remains on hold.
Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Zidlicky and their wives spent the All-Star break together in a Florida hotel.
Another blog said that Travis Zajac (and his wife) were also there – needless to say this sounds like a completely badass vacation that may be even cooler then the year Sykora & Elias went to T&T together and Elias came back with a necklace with the Turkish/Evil eye. #LifeLongStalker
Devils forward Petr Sykora is a superstitious guy, so, though he’s only nine games away now, he has no interest in talking about playing in his 1,000th NHL game.
If he doesn’t miss any games, that should happen on March 6 against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
“I’m not going to talk about 1,000 games,” he said. “I’ll talk about it when it’s over. I’m superstitious. I never talk about scoring – about the number of goals. I never talk about this.”
Sykora scored another big goal for the Devils tonight. It snapped a tie 1:44 into the third period and turned out to be the winner in a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Sykora’s shot from the right circle deflected off the stick of Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera and beat goaltender Ryan Miller high to the stick side for his 13th goal of the season. It was Sykora’s first goals since Jan. 19 against Boston, ending a nine-game drought.
“I’ll take any goal,” Sykora said. “I hadn’t scored in (nine) games and on that (power-play) I was just trying to get the puck to the net for a rebound for Zubie and it got tipped along the way and kind of went perfectly far side. I didn’t really try to hit that corner, but I’ll take it and, hopefully, the puck is going to go in a little more for me.”