The Anaheim Ducks waited until midseason to honour the most popular player in franchise history, and no, it wasn't just so the controversy surrounding Teemu Selanne's tell-all book had time to die down. The Ducks wanted to retire Selanne's jersey on Sunday, the night the Winnipeg Jets came to town, because so much of his career was forged in those early days in the Manitoba capital.
Given how much Selanne is associated with the Jets, it probably comes as a surprise to many that just 231 of his 1,451 NHL games were played in Winnipeg. But the memories are strong – of kids coming to his door for autographs, and of that miraculous 76-goal debut season, a rookie record that won't likely be eclipsed unless the NHL expands the nets.
For Sunday's Forever Teemu ceremony, Selanne has 60 friends and family coming in from Finland. There will be many more from Winnipeg – some from his inner circle, others just Jets fans who want to be in the stands to see Selanne's jersey raised to the rafters of the Honda Center.
Ultimately, the Feb. 7, 1996, trade that brought Selanne to the Ducks was the best thing that ever happened to him, on a personal and a professional level. It allowed him to forge a long association with Paul Kariya on one of the most dynamic duos of their generation. It permitted him to win a Stanley Cup in 2007, which prompted a first (but short-lived) retirement. Mostly though, it gave him a chance to fall in love with Southern California, where he continues to make his home, raise his family and store his fabulous vintage car collection.
On a conference call with reporters this week, Selanne recalled how unhappy he was with the trade that sent him to Anaheim. According to Selanne, he'd been promised by the Jets, only the week before, that he wasn't going to be traded and would remain with the franchise when it moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix later in 1996.
"You almost feel as if you have failed, that you're not doing a good job," Selanne said of the trade. "I didn't want to leave. I was happy there. I was mad when it happened, but obviously, it turned out to be a great thing – and Winnipeg was leaving anyway."
In the end, Selanne accumulated 1,457 points in 1,451 NHL games, making him 11th in career goals and 15th in points. He wouldn't have come anywhere close to those totals had his career not been saved by the 2004-05 lockout, which gave him time to recover from knee surgery and regain his speed. The Finnish Flash returned to Anaheim in 2005-06, where the coach, Randy Carlyle, had been a teammate with the Jets when Selanne first broke in.
"I've been lucky over the years because I always played with great players and coaches," said Selanne. "I haven't found any other players that I had chemistry with like Paul [Kariya], but if I had to mention one, I would have to mention Randy Carlyle. Especially after my knee surgery, and a little older age, he still believed I could play well. He gave me a chance to come back with the Ducks and to prove I can still play. A couple of years later, we won the Stanley Cup. That was great. Every team I played – with Saku Koivu, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, the young guys here, Getzy [Ryan Getzlaf] and [Corey] Perry, Phil Housley – the list is so long. I've been very lucky through the years."
Selanne is currently embracing retirement, noting that after "21 years of living in a certain schedule and a very disciplined life, I really enjoy the time right now when I don't have a schedule. Obviously, I have four kids and they keep me busy with their hobbies. I play tennis. I play golf and try to spend as much time with my kids as I can.
"Every day has been great. I don't miss the game that much. I miss my teammates and the life around the locker rooms, but the game itself? I think I played long enough. I have been busy on my own terms right now. In the future, for sure, I'm going to play a bigger part in hockey with the Ducks, but now it's time to relax and enjoy this low-scheduled life."
Once a player's career ends, there are only two things left to aspire to, said Selanne: One is getting your jersey retired, the other is making it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"The last one I don't know yet, but for sure, I'll try to enjoy this moment," said Selanne. "It's going to be a special night for me."