It will be his 20th career game at the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a remarkable number for a player who has spent his entire career in the Western Conference.
And it will also be his last NHL game in the city, barring a meeting between the Leafs and Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup finals.
Teemu Selanne is in Toronto, likely for the last time, after all these years.
“How old is he now?” asked Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf on Tuesday morning, as the Leafs prepared to face the Ducks. “Forty-three? He just keeps doing it.”
“I played with him! Imagine that,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said, referencing their days with the original Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93 when Selanne had 76 goals as a rookie and Carlyle retired midseason at age 36. “He’s an old bugger that guy.”
One great stat that’s a testament to his longevity? Selanne has now played 515 games after turning 35, which ranks ninth all-time. (He can move into sixth this season by passing Nick Lidstrom, Mark Recchi and John Bucyk.)
Then there’s the fact he sits 11th in career goals scored – 22 away from becoming the seventh player to ever hit 700 – and 15th in career points, needing only 32 more to pass Stan Mikita.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has a plan to rest Selanne during some games this season, remarking on Tuesday that they would rather have him at 100 per cent for 68 games than tired for 82, but he will play against the Leafs.
Selanne’s minutes are also down to the lowest point of his career (he’s averaging 14:50 a game) but he has six points in seven games, including goals in three straight coming into Toronto, so this is hardly just a victory lap.
He has been contributing on a very effective line with Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silfverberg that has helped the Ducks be one of the most dangerous even strength teams in the league so far, lifting them to a 7-1-0 start. (Emerson Etem will likely take Silfverberg’s place on the line in Tuesday’s game.)
But Selanne isn’t wavering from his promise that this will be his final NHL season, no matter how well he or the team plays.
It’s time he says – and “it’s not getting any easier.”
“It’s funny, the older the get, the more you start to enjoy everything,” Selanne said. “When you’re young, you see things a little different. Especially after the [2004-05] lockout when I played a couple years before that with a bad knee. I had time to fix it, and I realized how lucky I am… I enjoy this game way more now than when I was 25. It’s fun.”
“The Finnish Flash was back,” Carlyle recalled of Selanne’s amazing return to form at age 35, back in 2005-06, their first season together as coach and player in Anaheim. “We were very fortunate to have that in our lineup. The place he wanted to play was Anaheim.
“He gave them a hometown discount. He’s remained the face of the franchise for a number of years and it’s amazing that he still has that extra gear. He has a change of pace, a stutter step, that catches a lot of people flat footed. He’s an all-around tremendous athlete besides being a good person. When you’re a coach and you get to be around people like that, you’re very, very fortunate.”
The subtext of what will likely be Selanne’s finally game in Toronto is that he will obviously face his former coach and teammate for the very first time.
While some of Carlyle’s former players recently have expressed their disdain for his no-nonsense style, it’s clear that he and Selanne had a great relationship during his rebirth in Southern California.
“I have so much respect for him and we won the Cup together,” Selanne said. “So there’s great memories. I’m so happy to see him doing well. He really deserves that. But it’s not a surprise for me. He’s a guy that made average players play better. He expects guys to work harder every day.”
The Leafs will go with Jonathan Bernier yet again in goal on Tuesday while Anaheim is starting Jonas Hiller as Viktor Fasth is out with a minor injury.
There aren’t many secrets with Toronto’s lineup as they aren’t carrying a single extra player right now after Carter Ashton and David Broll were returned to the minors on the weekend. Carlyle is getting ready for the return of David Clarkson from suspension on Friday in Columbus, which is one reason you may see Jay McClement fill a hole with Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri against the Ducks.
Friday is also the likely return date for enforcer Frazer McLaren, so we’ll see some minor shuffling later in the week.
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