The 36-year-old Anaheim Ducks forward is in the hunt for the Stanley Cup and feels good about his chances of hoisting the trophy for the first time in his 14-year NHL career.
“You enjoy every day,” a grinning Selanne said before the Ducks faced the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series. “That’s the key.
“You know there are not so many opportunities left. That’s why you enjoy it. You try to take advantage of every day.”
Nicknamed the Finnish Flash for his speed, Selanne has played 1,041 regular-season games without winning the Cup. Vancouver’s Trevor Linden, with 1,323 games, is the only active player who has laboured longer without winning an NHL title.
“For sure this is the best team I’ve ever been with,” said Selanne, who also has played for the Winnipeg Jets, San Jose and Colorado. “It’s exciting but there’s a lot of hard work ahead.”
Selanne’s face took on the appearance of a Halloween mask courtesy of an accidental high-stick from teammate Chris Pronger in Friday night’s game. He chuckled when asked how much worse he could look if the Ducks advance to the final.
“Oh God,” Selanne said rolling his eyes. “Hopefully it can’t get worse than this. It’s the playoffs and you still enjoy it.”
Hockey is fun again for Selanne. He’s coming off a regular season where he scored 48 goals and 94 points in 82 games. Those are his best numbers since 1998-99 when he had 47 goals and 107 points during his first stint with the Ducks.
It’s hard to believe that just three seasons ago it looked like his career was over.
He spent 2003-04 with Colorado playing on a badly injured knee. He still managed 16 goals and 32 points, his fewest as a professional, but the Avs were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by Minnesota.
At the end of the year Selanne had his knee rebuilt, but even he wasn’t sure if he’d play hockey again.
“When I went into surgery I thought there’s no way I was going to come back if I don’t feel as good as I felt my first 10 years,” he said. “It was a long process.
“Six or seven months after that, I was still concerned. Hard work and patience paid off. It was an unbelievable feeling to realize it’s there again.”
The year after the lockout, new Ducks general manager Brian Burke decided Selanne was worth the gamble and signed him to US$1-million, one-year contract. The 1993 rookie of the year responded with 40 goals in the regular season, then led the Ducks with 14 points in 16 playoff games before being eliminated in the conference finals by Edmonton.
Over the summer Selanne signed a one-year deal worth US$3.75-million.
“We felt as a team, and myself, the mission is not completed,” said Selanne. “There are so many good things going around and such a great run last year.
“Adding Pronger in the off-season, it made everyone so much more excited. It’s been a fun two years so far.”
Selanne says young Ducks players like Corey Perry, 21, Dustin Penner, 24, and Ryan Getzlaff, 21, remind him of what he felt like when the Jets took him 10th overall in the 1988 draft.
“If you hang around with younger people it makes you feel young too,” he said. “Following these youngsters the last couple of years, it’s exciting.
“It’s fun to see how they get better and things change. It’s a great process.”
Selanne hasn’t thought about next year. Whether the Ducks win the Stanley Cup could influence his decision.
“It’s going to play a role,” he said. “Even last year I made the rule don’t even start thinking about it (retiring) during the season. There is always highs and lows. After the season it’s time to take some time off and re-evaluate.”
What could ultimately sway Selanne’s decision is if he’s still having fun.
“That’s the bottom line,” he said. “If you can’t feel happy, if you’re not smiling, it’s a tough job to be in.
“For me, it means you have passion and fun. That’s what this game is all about.”