TORONTO – Chad Kilger will know by next Tuesday night if he’ll get to celebrate a fourth anniversary as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs or join an eighth NHL team.
He’d love to stay. He’s never been with one big-league club longer than this. “It’s been nice to get accustomed to a situation and feel comfortable with your role with the organization,” he said after practice Monday.
Kilger skated for seven teams in his first nine seasons, and he knows all about leaving home with suitcase in hand to try and fit in somewhere else.
“It’s part of our profession,” he says. “You just learn to deal with it.”
He’s a competent left-winger who doesn’t score a lot – 14 goals last season and nine so far this season – but he throws his 220 pounds around effectively. He’s under contract for $700,000 next season, which is well below the league average, so he would be an affordable pickup for a playoff-bound team looking to add lineup depth. The Leafs will be moving bodies and Kilger is one of the most tradeable players they’ve got.
“We’re all well aware of the situation we’re in,” he says of being among players on a team that is a long ways from a playoff qualifying position. “Some guys are concerned about the deadline but our biggest concern is just winning games and trying to get back into the playoff race.”
The native of Cornwall, Ont., was Anaheim’s first choice, fourth overall, in the 1995 entry draft out of the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL and he jumped right into the NHL.
“My first game was in Winnipeg, I remember that,” he recalls.
He scored his first NHL goal against the Jets in Anaheim three weeks after his debut.
“I was so young and green and had so much to learn,” he recalls. “It was a big adjustment for an 18-year-old.”
In February 1996, after only 45 games with the Ducks, he was traded to Winnipeg with Oleg Tverdovsky and a third-round draft pick for Teemu Selanne, Marc Chouinard and a fourth-round pick.
“It was the last two months for the Jets,” he recalls.
The franchise shifted to Phoenix and he split the next two seasons between Phoenix and its AHL farm team in Springfield, Mass.
“It was a new hockey market and there was excitement there,” he said.
He wasn’t part of it for long.
In March 1998, he was traded to Chicago with Jayson More for Keith Carney and Jim Cummins.
“It was a great experience to play for an Original Six team,” he said. “It was good.”
Alas, he had no time to put down roots in the Windy City because in March 1999 he was traded to Edmonton with Daniel Cleary, Ethan Moreau and Christian Laflamme for Boris Mironov, Dean McAmmond and Jonas Elofsson.
“There was a lot of moving when I was young,” he says. “A lot of that was to do with inexperience in handling different situations.”
In December 2000, he was traded to Montreal for Sergei Zholtok.
“They were all good places,” he says of all the teams for which he’s played. “I learned a lot from each opportunity.”
In March 2004, the Leafs claimed him on waivers from Montreal. He was a Hab for more than three years, but he had to leave that team, too.
“You get moved and a lot of the responsibility falls on your wife,” he says of the repeated changes in address. “It’s been difficult at times, definitely.”
He rented in the early years and he’s owned homes in three NHL cities. All three of his children were born during summers in Cornwall, the family’s off-season home.
If he has to move the family again, so be it. He’s only 31 so he’s got a lot of hockey left in him.
“I’ve enjoyed playing for the Leafs,” he says. “It’s been a good fit.”
The Leafs are at home for games Tuesday against Columbus, Thursday against Buffalo and Saturday against Atlanta. After a game Monday night in Ottawa, they fly to Florida for a game Wednesday against the Panthers.
The lineup will have changed by then. Everybody is on edge.
“Most of the players don’t have control over what is going to happen,” says centre Nik Antopov. “All we can do is go out on the ice and play and work hard and just wait and see what’s going to happen.”