He woke up Thursday morning sitting third among NHL scoring leaders, and more importantly, his Anaheim Ducks were very much first overall in the league standings. “We’re having a lot of fun right now,” Selanne said before boarding a California-bound flight from Atlanta.
“Last year and this year have pretty much been the most fun seasons in my career,” added Selanne. “Right now what we’re doing as a team, it’s just awesome. I’ve been waiting a long time to be on a team like this, where we have a chance to win every night. It’s a great feeling.”
Selanne leads the Ducks with 43 points (19-24) in 34 games, four points behind league leader Sidney Crosby – 17 years his junior. In fact, Selanne is the oldest player among the NHL’s top 10 point-getters.
“I feel like a puppy,” insists Selanne.
To think he nearly called it quits in 2004 because of a damaged knee. It took him eight months to fully recover from reconstructive surgery but by the summer of 2005 he felt like a new man.
“After my knee surgery, I got the wheels back and the passion back,” said Selanne, who exploded for 40 goals and 50 assists last season. “I really don’t feel like I’m 36 years old.”
The crackdown on obstruction was a factor in Selanne’s re-birth and he was happy to report Thursday that he feels the league is still doing a solid job on that front.
“I think they’re calling pretty much the same stuff,” he said. “Of course some nights it’s a little different but I think the referees are doing a good job. I’m really happy it’s still like this. If you’re smarter or faster or stronger, now you’re going to get rewarded. I think that’s so important and it’s really good for the game.”
The Ducks rewarded Selanne in the off-season with a US$3.75-million, one-year deal. If there were any fears he might not be able to duplicate that kind of production, those are now gone. He’s on pace for 103 points this season.
And that’s just the on-ice contributions.
“First off, he’s an excellent teammate,” said Ducks GM Brian Burke. “The type of guy we look for here are guys with character who are good teammates. That’s the No. 1 thing. And he doesn’t have bad days. To have a guy who walks into the dressing room in a good mood every day, that’s a very important attribute for a hockey team, you need guys like that. He brings sunshine with him.”
The other thing, Burke said, is that people don’t realize how big the six-foot, 204-pound Selanne plays.
“He’s not a little, skilled European guy,” said Burke. “He’s a big, skilled European guy. And he makes big-man plays. He takes physical abuse to make a play.”
Selanne has found chemistry on a line with Chris Kunitz and Andy McDonald.
“Mac and Kuny, they’ve both been great and I’m so proud of those guys,” said Selanne. “In this league when you can skate and pass and shoot and see the game well, that’s a great package and Kuny and Mac have definitely taken advantage of that. It’s a pleasure to play with those guys.”
He’s also enjoyed playing alongside star defenceman Chris Pronger after years of being bitter rivals. The Selanne-Pronger battles are legendary, but that’s all water under the bridge now.
“It’s been awesome,” said Selanne. “I played with his brother (Sean) and he’s a great guy, too. You know, Chris Pronger is one of those guys that if he isn’t playing like the way he plays, he’s not effective. And I respect that.
“He’s very tough to play against. But it’s definitely more fun to be on his side.”
Burke remembers Selanne’s reaction when he made the deal with Edmonton last summer.
“I think Teemu was more excited than anyone on the team about the Pronger deal,” said Burke. “When our PR guy called him and told him about the deal, he went nuts on the phone. He didn’t even believe him at first.”
Selanne and Pronger will be front and centre Saturday night when the Ducks face the Sharks in San Jose – a battle of the top two clubs in the Western Conference.
Despite a 4-0-0 road trip through Washington, Tampa, Florida and Atlanta, Selanne believes the game Saturday provides an important barometer for the 25-3-6 Ducks.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” said Selanne. “The way we have played the last couple of games on the road, I don’t think we’ve played that well. I think Saturday against the Sharks, it’s going to be a really, really good test for where we are right now.”