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Former Islanders captain Michael Peca retires at 35

The Jackets clearly erred in letting Michael Peca walk without a veteran replacement, a player who can aid Nash and also help filter the often terse words from Hitchcock.

The trade this week to bring veteran right winger Chris Clark to the Jackets was meant to rectify the situation...

>>Aaron Portzline, Dec. 31, 2009, Columbus Dispatch

Fitting that even when he was on his proverbial last NHL legs, Michael Peca's "intangibles" were missed by his final team.

NHL fan reaction to Peca was a funny thing: In several locations, other teams' fans were annoyed by him, while home team fans were enamored yet left wanting more offense, taking each goal as a reason to expect another. That's a typical response to a two-way player who is defensively tenacious, a little bit of a pest, a little bit vocal, and who provides enough offense to pour salt in the wounds of an opposition already frustrated by his checking. (With 465 career points, Peca finished plus-66 for his career.)

Michael Peca




Mar 26, 1974

864 GP, 176g, 289a, 465p, 25 SHG, +66, 798PIM

97GP, 15g, 19a, 34p, 2 SHG, 0+/-, 80PIM

Selke (1997, 2002)

The key live body in The Mogilny Trade (there was also a 1st-round pick that yielded Jay McKee), Peca ended up playing for six teams -- which is not how anyone in Buffalo nor on Long Island envisioned it when he arrived. For many his biggest moment was with the Sabres team that lost in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. For others, that was the beginning of a different side to Peca, as it led him to value himself so highly on that Hasek-dependent team that one year later he sat an entire season in a contract dispute. Peca himself cites wearing the "A" on the 2002 gold-medal winning Team Canada as a personal highlight.

It was certainly a risk for Mike Milbury to buy Peca in the Summer of Yashin after Peca's year away from the league. We're still reminded of the price -- and will be for many years -- each time we see Tim Connolly or Taylor Pyatt skate. But Peca showed no rust and played his role perfectly with the Islanders during that brief 2001-02 resurgence. Who doesn't wonder how it might have been different if not for Darcy Tucker's submarine knee attack which ended his year in Game 5?

That Milbury needed to acquire Peca because he'd just paid a ransom for a star center who wasn't fit for captaincy is another matter. Milbury has stated that Yashin/Peca was "a Plan B" when his efforts to acquire a major star without Yashin's baggage fell through.

For us Islanders fans, that was the peak: Both before and since, Peca never scored as much as that first season (25-35-60) on Long Island. After being shipped away for Mike York, Peca never again reached double-digits in goals. He bounced around, often waiting for the right contract offer, which led him to Toronto and Columbus at the end. His importance to the Oilers' 2006 Cup runner up squad was probably his last highlight displaying both sides of his game. He retires now at 35. That's just how it goes.

*  *  *

As a fan, I always had an odd range of feelings on this one. I loved that Peca provided what Yashin could not. I loved that he played the game right, even if I secretly never wanted him to last as long in the #27 shirt as John Tonelli did. I loved that he was part of a return to excitement for the organization, though in the back of my mind it was always compromised by the string of moves Milbury made leading up to it.

When I think of Peca, I think of the 11-1-1-1 start and the Shawn Bates penalty shot. I think of Peter Laviolette (good and bad) and Chris Osgood, but also of Steve Stirling. I think of some fun times and a renaissance that was inherently limited by the Yashin contract. I think of the periodic rumblings of discord with Peca and the coach, or Peca and different players -- all things you weren't sure what to make of when you have a guy determined enough to sit out a season in his prime.

In the end, the Peca era with the Islanders left me wanting. I loved what he brought to the team, but the memories are forever tainted by the reign of the guy who brought him in. That was hardly Peca's fault; that's just how it goes.