In a perfect world, Teemu Selanne’s NHL career would have ended in the winner’s circle, his Anaheim Ducks circling with the Stanley Cup sometime around mid-June.
Sadly, the storybook finish was not to be.
When the Ducks fell 6-2 to the Los Angeles Kings Friday night to lose their best-of-seven playoff series four games to three, it marked the end of Selanne’s brilliant NHL career. Although Selanne stopped short of officially announcing his retirement in the immediate aftermath of a difficult and disappointing loss, he spoke about life in the NHL in the past tense; and noted that while he has had overtures from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and probably could still play, he figured it was time to call it a career.
“I am so thankful I’ve been able to play for so many years and enjoy this game, my teammates, the fans, this organization,” said Selanne, in a long and wide-ranging post-game interview. “Not even in my wildest fantasies would I have ever expected to have a career like this, so I am very thankful.
“It’s still hard to realize it’s all over now. Tomorrow morning, it’s going to be a weird feeling and I’m going to miss a lot of things. But it’s got to end somewhere and in the long run, there’s going to be a lot of happiness. When you look back and you take everything in with this career, there’s just been a lot of great moments.
“Also, I’m very happy that my family and my kids have been old enough to realize what this has been all about. They have just been so supportive, and living this whole dream with me.”
When the game ended, Selanne was the third Ducks’ player through the handshake line. It took a while for it to move along – no harsh words exchanged here – with virtually every Los Angeles player stopping to chat for a moment and offer congratulations.
Then, prior to heading to their dressing room, the Kings’ players gathered at their bench and collectively tapped their sticks in a show of appreciation for Selanne’s career achievements.
“I just congratulated him on his outstanding career and I told him it was a privilege to play against him,” said Kings’ centre Anze Kopitar.
“There’s not many guys left in the league that have earned the respect and admiration – not only of the fans, but of the players he’s played against,” added Kings’ forward Justin Williams. “We would have stayed out there for 20 minutes if we could.”
Selanne said of the Kings’ tribute: “It was unbelievable class. This is what hockey’s all about. Obviously, we compete hard, but after, there is a lot of respect. That meant a lot. It felt great.
“That’s what I’m going to miss the most – these guys and this lifestyle. There’s nothing like it.”
Selanne began his career with an astonishing 76-goal rookie season for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93, but he will be known largely for his contributions over the better part of two decades with the Ducks, and noted that the most memorable moment of his career came when the team won the 2007 Stanley Cup.
“To be honest, I’ve been most proud of being able to play for so many years,” said Selanne. “You all know, when you get older, it’s not going to get any easier, but to be able to compete against these young guys and still enjoy this and play well, that’s been the greatest thing in my career. I’m really thankful for that.”
Selanne missed the early part of the 2007-08 season, pondering retirement, but ultimately was coaxed back by then general manager Brian Burke. Selanne ended up sticking around for an additional seven seasons. What if someone had told Selanne he would last another seven years at point in his career?
“I would call a doctor for you,” answered Selanne. “The thing is, going one year at a time has been great for me. I didn’t make a decision until I was 100 per cent sure I’m ready to push myself and enjoy myself.”
Selanne announced his plans to return via a video that he supervised himself. In it, Selanne is shown missing golf shot after golf shot and finally, in mock frustration, tosses his clubs into a pond. From there, he wades in after them; fishes out his cellphone; and calls general manager Bob Murray, telling him he would play just the one more season.
“I guess I have to buy new ones now,” said Selanne.
Selanne played only about 12 minutes per night in the playoffs, and was deployed on the second power-play unit by coach Bruce Boudreau.
In explaining why the time was right now, Selanne said: “I just felt, my role got smaller. I still felt I could play way more and a bigger role. But when it starts going down and you start thinking, maybe now you give your last push and it’s time. It has to come from yourself. I felt it was the right time.”
Of the KHL option, which has been rumored for months now, or since Selanne won the Olympic MVP award in Sochi, he said: “I don’t think so. There’s a lot of interest in that, but I always said, ‘I’m going to retire here’ - and to be honest, I don’t have to play anymore. I could if I want, but right now, I don’t want.”
Selanne will finish with 1,457 points in 1,451 career regular season games. He will be eligible for induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame three years into his retirement – in the class of 2017.
“One way, it feels like yesterday, but in another way, it feels like a long time ago – and it goes fast. I always tell the young guys, enjoy every day because you know what? It goes like that – so quickly.
“I’ve been flirting with this decision for a long time. But the passion and the fun always brought me back. I still love this game – and I still know I can play. But it’s better this way, than having different situations.
“When I came here, in the 1995-96 season, I didn’t really know what to expect, but this turned out to be a home and a happy place for me and my family. Obviously, everything great has to end somewhere. It’s going to be, obviously, a lot of sadness about this, but overall, there’s going to be a lot of happiness too. It has been an unbelievable journey, and I’ve really been enjoying every day. Every morning, I drive here, with a smile on my face, win or lose. That’s why this is so important for me. My teammates, the trainers, my coaches - everybody in this organization has been so important for me.”