Midway through the first period, the 15,004 in attendance at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg rose to their feet and cheered Teemu Selanne. They did the same after he was named first star of the game. They did it because last night marked the last-ever regular season game Selanne will play in the city where he is still beloved and where he spent the first four seasons of his Hall of Fame career.
Your trusty correspondent does not profess to know what is going on between Selanne’s ears, but it says here that those same people will be on their feet next season when the Anaheim Ducks visit Winnipeg. Jets fans, like many others around the NHL, are buying what Selanne is selling when he talks about this definitely, for sure, swear-to-God-and-hope-to-die being his last tour of duty as an NHL player.
Olli Jokinen doesn’t believe Selanne is telling the truth and neither do I. In fact, I think that every time Selanne talks about retirement, he has all his fingers and toes crossed. And really, haven’t we all learned our lesson with this joker from Jokerit? His record with the truth when it comes to retiring is about as good as a crooked politician’s.
And for that we should all be very, very thankful. Since the day he arrived with the Jets in 1992, Selanne has been a gift to the NHL. And for those lucky enough to follow his career, it has been a gift that keeps on giving year after year. Selanne is 43 years old and the signs of decline are there, to be sure. The Ducks have elected to sit him out of back-to-back games in order to keep him fresh. He’s 43, but he’s also a freak of nature and a guy who was born to play hockey.
Those guys almost never go quietly into the night. The problem with guys such as Selanne is they can never leave the game on their terms. That’s because they love it too much. The sense I get is that as long as Selanne thinks he can contribute, he will continue to hedge about retiring every summer, then make a funny video about coming back for another season. One of these years soon, that decision will be made for him. It might not be pretty at the end. If you remember Jari Kurri’s final season with the Colorado Avalanche you’ll know what I mean. Selanne strikes me as the kind of guy who will have to be told he can’t play anymore and there’s no indication those words will be uttered by anyone with the Ducks organization this season.
When I think of Selanne and his talk of retirement, I harken back to the bronze medal game at the World Championship five years ago in Quebec City. Finland had just defeated Sweden 4-0 to take the third place medal and Selanne, required to take a drug test after the game, had downed a couple of beers in celebration. By the time he made it to the mixed area for post-game interviews, he was fairly well lubed and emotional.
He started the conversation by stating in no uncertain terms that he had played his last game as an NHL player. He talked about going out with a victory to end his career and how he was looking forward to the new chapter in his life. As the conversation wore on and Selanne continued to down a couple more beers, he relented a little on the NHL, saying he’d have to take some time to think about it. But he insisted that this was definitely the last time ever that he would wear the sweater of the Finnish national team. Probably.
Remember that when you see him whipping around the ice for the Finns at the Olympics in Sochi. It’s clear Selanne can still play the game at a high level and he keeps himself in such incredible shape that he could probably maintain a decent level of play for at least another couple of seasons.
Like I said, I don’t profess to know what Selanne is thinking. So maybe he will be true to his word this time and retire after the 2013-14 season, along with Jaromir Jagr. In that case, the 2017 Hall of Fame induction ceremony awaits.
But I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Selanne keeps playing, not only after this season, but beyond. At least we can keep hoping that’s the case.