The unofficial Teemu Selanne farewell tour began Monday with a visit from the Winnipeg Jets, the team Selanne began his Hall Of Fame career with in 1992. Unlike some players who keep people guessing about their career plans, Selanne made his retirement intentions known at the start of the year, with a hilarious video posted on the Anaheim Ducks' team website.
Selanne directed it himself – on a local golf course, flubbing shot after shot, finally throwing his clubs into a pond and then wading in after them the way any hacker might to retrieve his cell phone, then putatively calling Anaheim Ducks' general manager Bob Murray to say: "I'm back," he said, "but this is it."
Selanne wasn't ready to retire because of the way the 48-game lockout season ended – with an opening-round loss to the Detroit Red Wings after Anaheim went in as the No. 2 seed in the West. Selanne believed the Ducks had a legitimate chance to win another Stanley Cup, and after a short post-Olympic slump that saw them lose a couple of games badly, the Ducks look as if they'll win the Pacific Division ahead of the San Jose Sharks.
The Jets won't make the playoffs, so having the Jets in town was a chance for Selanne to reminisce with old friends about the start of his career. In Winnipeg, neighbourhood kids would just knock on his door to say hi. Access to the budding superstar was so free and easy – it isn't the same here in California, not the same level of interest and not the same access, either.
"They can't even get close," said Selanne, with a laugh. "A couple of Rottweilers in there. A different story now. Obviously I didn't have kids at that time. I'm pretty playful guy and there was always some action going there, a lot of kids playing street hockey. I don't know – it was just easy. I didn't mind. It was fun."
Selanne has been an excellent ambassador for the game. His record of 76 goals in his rookie season will be on the books forever – no other player in history has scored more than 53 as an NHL rookie. He is 11th all-time in NHL goals scored, 15th in points, third in power-play goals and tied for fourth in game-winning goals. Internationally, he has won four Olympic medals for Finland, including a bronze in February in Sochi, where he played on the top line of an injury-depleted Finnish team and won the tournament's MVP award.
His role in his 22nd season was defined early by coach Bruce Boudreau. Selanne doesn't play in back-to-back games and, as a result, according to Boudreau, "he is definitely not looking as tired as I thought he would at this stage of the season. So we just keep with our game plan with him and get him between 13 and 15 minutes a game, and I think he does good."
Recently, Boudreau gave Selanne a chance to play some games on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, which forced Selanne to play out of position – a lifetime right winger, he played on the left side because Perry is dug in at right wing. But it gets him premium minutes with two of the team's top players.
"It was great to play with those guys," said Selanne. "If you play with them, you know the puck is coming – and that's always a great sign, because those guys have so much talent. It was fun and I really enjoyed it." Obviously, it's out of my control who I play with, but we try to get everybody in the top notch right now. We need everybody. Every player has to play at least their own level – and a lot of guys have to overachieve to win."
Asked if he might change his mind about ending his career, Selanne indicated that while his daughter wants him to retire so he can be home more, his boys would like to see him press on. "They still think I should play more," said Selanne, "but when they are 44, I'm going to ask them again."
"You've got to stop somewhere," he added. "I really felt already, last year, that was toughest year in my life, with that schedule. This year hasn't been even close to that tough. I still love the game, love to play and come here every day. That's something still really special. But on the same hand, I think this is a good time."
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