ANAHEIM, Calif. – Teemu Selanne certainly doesn’t sound finished with ice hockey. Jonas Hiller is hoping vertigo is finally finished with him.
The two biggest questions to be answered in the Anaheim Ducks’ off-season revolve around the 40-year-old Finnish Flash and the stricken NHL all-star goalie from Switzerland whose absence dearly cost his club in the playoffs.
Although the Ducks were smarting from their first-round ouster by the Nashville Predators, they’re still proud of the 15-0-5 late-season rally that got them to fourth place in the Western Conference. Nearly everybody important is already signed through next season, and the Ducks are all hoping they’ll be joined by Selanne, who expects to decide midway through the summer if he’ll return.
Selanne didn’t tip his hand while packing up at Honda Center on Tuesday, but his teammates think he would be crazy to quit after an 80-point regular season.
“I’ve got to be honest, it was so much fun this year, and that’s all I ask,” Selanne said. “It’s not about goals or points. I just want to enjoy this every day. I try to play like I left everything out there, but you can’t just win the Stanley Cup every year.”
The Ducks again were among the league’s most entertaining teams, but despite a remarkable fill-in performance in net by Ray Emery, the defence suffered without Hiller, who missed all but 83 minutes after his all-star game appearance with a case of vertigo that still hasn’t dissipated.
General manager Bob Murray and coach Randy Carlyle desperately want Selanne and Hiller back healthy, but they’re also wondering whether Anaheim should keep its core together after failing to win a playoff round in the past two seasons.
“We can’t be satisfied by losing in the first round of the playoffs,” Carlyle said. “That’s not what this organization is about. … The way we played down the stretch, that’s a good sign for the future.”
Corey Perry and Selanne were two of the league’s top eight scorers, and the Ducks also had the league’s top-scoring defenceman—Lubomir Visnovsky, who played with a serious shoulder injury in the post-season—leading their impressive attack. They still struggled just to make the playoffs, getting off to a slow start before that phenomenal finish.
The Ducks’ brand of hockey is tremendously exciting, but is it good enough to win it all? That’s the dilemma facing Murray after the relatively boring Predators grinded out four victories in six games with a fraction of Anaheim’s showmanship, but a fraction more tenacity.
“The decisions this summer are different than just getting players,” Murray said. “The purpose here is, can we win with this core group? That’s what I’ve got to figure out.”
Selanne capped his second straight stellar season by becoming the top goal-scorer (six) in the playoffs to date. Not bad for a player in his prime—and downright unbelievable for a high-mileage veteran who will turn 41 this summer.
“He’s too good to quit. Come on,” Murray said. “He’s too good, and I think he’s still having fun. I’ll do everything in my power to keep him here.”
Selanne said he’ll stay in Los Angeles until mid-June, when he heads back to Finland for the summer. If the Ducks have their way, he’ll return to Orange County in September before heading back to Finland again—for the Ducks’ exhibition game against Jokerit, Selanne’s former Helsinki-area club, and two regular-season games in Europe.
“When I make my decision, No. 1, am I healthy? Am I ready to push myself again?” Selanne said. “The other side is you want to have a good team, want to be successful again. We have all the tools here to succeed.”
Realizing fans have suggested a reunion might be brewing with former Ducks superstar Paul Kariya, Selanne acknowledged he spoke on Monday to his longtime teammate, who’s fully healthy after sitting out this season. Selanne said Kariya hasn’t decided whether he even wants to play again, noting the rash of vicious head hits in recent years could be particularly dangerous for a player with Kariya’s concussion history.
Hiller’s problems are even tougher to pin down. The Ducks finally gave up on getting him back during the playoffs last week, and he’s already feeling a bit better after a week of inactivity.
“Even though it’s tough to have a long summer, it’s probably the best right now,” Hiller said. “We’re still trying to figure out exactly what it is. I’m definitely positive we’ll find the right solution. It’s slower than I want, but I have a couple of months now, and I’m sure when I come back in September, I’m going to be 100 per cent.”
Hiller has heard from plenty of concerned medical professionals who want to help. His parents back home in Switzerland also have been approached by doctors who want to look at the goalie.
Murray said he’s hoping Hiller feels better after a couple of months away from the ice.
“We’re going to have to wait it out,” Murray said. “That’s going to be one of the tougher problems this summer.”