The Finnish Flash, The Ageless Wonder
By Jon Maxfield aka DnJcards
In sports, it seems that age is almost as powerful as on field/ice/court play, even more so in a physical contact sport like Football or Ice Hockey. Age determines your selling point on a free agency market/trading market, it determines when you’re supposed to retire. Without exaggeration age is about as important to sports as your talent level. Whether it’s “Completely full of potential” young age of 18-23 years old, the “They’re at their potential, we know what to expect” age of 24-33 years old, the “past their prime, still able bodied” age of 34-36 years old, or the “Are you ready to retire yet?” age of 36 years old and on. The ages we view as our youth, the prime of our life, are viewed as over-the-hill in sports. Still, as important as age is in the sports world, there are the wonders of the sports world whom continue to surprise and outplay their “Potential” at the elder ages.
Whether we’re talking about the 80 game, 41 point season shown by “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe at the age of 51 (51 in sports is the equivalent of having great-great grandchildren and having the majority of your food fed to you in liquid form) or the recently retired Niklas Lidstrom’s Norris trophy winning season at the age of 40, there’s some degree of respect you have to display for these men who are well past the age where being on the ice alone is encouraged, and they’re making an impact. There’s several players in the NHL who are at or nearing that point in their career but there’s one who stands out to me as the definition of the cliché “Ageless wonder” and that is the Anaheim Ducks’ right winger Teemu Selanne who just recently signed on to play his 20th NHL season, and his 13th with the team with whom he finally won his first Stanley Cup (At the overdue age of 36). There are few players as well liked as Selanne and few who have the credentials the Finnish Flash boasts on his resume.
The former Kindergarten teacher burst onto the scene in Finland playing for the SM-liiga team Jokerit, where he won the A-Junior Level Finnish Championship at the age of 18, the same season he was drafted by the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, 10th overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. During his first full season for Jokerit in 1989, Selanne managed to impress racking up over a point per game on pace to 58 points in 44 games. Two seasons later Selanne led his team to the SM-liiga championship along with winning the Honkavaara Trophy (the equivalent to the Maurice Richard Trophy in the NHL).
Prior to the 1992-93 NHL Season, Selanne was contacted and contracted to play for the Winnipeg Jets at the age of 22. The Finnish Flash came to the NHL and played like he had a chip on his shoulder, scoring his first goal early in October (October 8th vs the San Jose Sharks) and showed no signs of slowing down. He went on to have the single most impressive rookie campaign in NHL History as he shattered the record for goals scored by a rookie as he scored 76 (Previously held by Mike Bossy with 53), and point record as he registered 132 points! Not only did he break that record, he went on to lead the league in scoring as a rookie, (becoming only the second European player to accomplish this feat, the first being Selanne’s boyhood idol, Jari Kurri). Selanne (along with Alexander Mogilny who shared the scoring title with the rookie) are the last players to register 70 or more goals in one NHL Season). Needless to say Selanne walked away with the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s best rookie.
Selanne’s 1993-94 season was plagued with injury as he only played 51 games, still boasting over a point per game on pace to his 54 point season in 51 games. Following the 1993-94 season the NHL had a shortened season due to a lockout. During the lockout Selanne joined forces with his idol Jari Kurri on Jokerit where he played 20 games before returning to the NHL following the lockout. Upon his return Selanne picked up where he left off, putting up 48 points in 45 games as he kept his point-per-game percentage intact. The following season the Winnipeg Jets organization shocked the NHL as they traded away the star winger to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Along with Marc Chouinard and a 4th rounder) to get Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a 3rd rounder. This move displeased Selanne greatly.
He didn’t let his emotions get in way of his play and instead simply showed Winnipeg what they gave up as he led the NHL in goals 2 of the following 3 seasons, while playing alongside “Frick and Frack” linemate Paul Kariya. Unfortunately for the Finnish Flash the next 2 seasons were less than stellar as his point totals dropped, and in the 2000-2001 season, Selanne was traded to the Ducks neighbors, the San Jose Sharks for Jeff Friesen, Steve Shields and a second round pick, the change of scenery sparked Selanne for a short time and his point totals did increase, however this was the first season in Selanne’s NHL career where he posted under a point per game (Scoring 72 points in 73 games).
Selanne spent the next two full seasons with the Sharks, posting extremely sub-par numbers for the former scoring champions (54 and 64 points, both in 82 game seasons) Once his contract expired, he signed with the Colorado Avalanche where he posted career lows in goals and assists as he recorded only 32 points in 78 games. (Reportedly due to a knee injury which he had surgery for in the off-season, causing him to miss the entire 2004-05 season, during which, while locked out by the NHL, he once again signed with Jokerit).
Selanne’s contract was up following the 2004-05 season and Anaheim fans rejoiced as the fan favorite, Finnish Flash returned home, signing a one year contract in late August. Selanne looked just like his old self as he stepped onto the ice to the team that helped project him to stardom. Posting up 40 goals and 50 assists for 90 points in 80 games despite not having his long-time line-mate Paul Kariya. Selanne added a significant personal milestone that season as he became only the 7th European player, and 70th player in NHL history to score 1000 points. He accomplished this feat on his second goal on January 30th playing against the Los Angeles Kings. Along with leading the Ducks in scoring he also earned the Bill Masterton trophy which recognized him as the comeback player of the year.
Selanne contemplated retirement that off-season as he was 35 years old (going on 36). He decided to give it another year signing a one-year extension with the Ducks with aspirations of finally winning his cup that season, on a star studded Ducks team that bolstered such talent of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, a healthy Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Dustin Penner along with a red-hot Andy McDonald and a lethal checking line. Selanne changed his number from 13 to 8 for this season and was ready to accomplish what every hockey player aspires to do once they touch ice. During the course of the season it appeared as though the Ducks were the team to beat, and despite Selanne being 36 years old, Selanne scored his 500th NHL goal against the Avalanche, becoming only the second Finnish born NHL player to accomplish the feat, joining his childhood idol Jari Kurri. Keeping up with his accomplishments that season, he also scored his 600th point as a Duck, played in his 1000th NHL game, scored his 535th goal to move ahead of Frank Mahovlich for sole possession of 26th place in all-time goal scoring in the NHL, along with a heart- warming story for the ages. On January 10th, Selanne heard news from a very ill friend who informed him that his cancer had spread to his brain, Selanne told his friend that he would go out and try to score a hat trick for him, keeping the puck if he accomplished it (the veteran had not scored a hat trick since 2001). Selanne stepped onto the ice that night and played his heart out, scoring his 19th career hat trick in a 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars. Selanne did keep the puck and gave it to his terminally ill friend. In quite possibly the most memorable season of his career Selanne passed former linemate Paul Kariya for the franchise record for goals (scoring his 301st against the Los Angeles Kings). The season winded down and Selanne finished it scoring 48 goals (good enough for 3rd in the league) along with becoming the first NHL player in history to record consecutive 40 goal seasons over the age of 35. The season would end on a high note for Selanne. The Ducks made quick work of the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks to move into the conference finals.
The Ducks would be facing former coach, Mike Babcock and his team of grizzled veterans on the Detroit Red Wings. Selanne led his team throughout the series, scoring my most memorable goal as an Anaheim fan, as he pick pocketed the Detroit defender, spun around and buried the puck top shelf over Dominik Hasek in overtime to give the Ducks the 3-2 series lead. The Ducks moved on to face the Ottawa Senators in the finals. The Ducks had little trouble disposing of the Ottawa Senators who collapsed in the finals. The 36 year old Finnish sensation finally achieved what he had aspired to do for so long as he hoisted the cup high above his head, tears streaming down his face in triumph.
Following the cup win, Selanne contemplated retirement yet again but came back with the urge to play, and proved why he is still as potent at the age of 36 as he was when he was 22 years old and stepped onto the NHL ice for the first time. During the 07-08 season Selanne surpassed Paul Kariya for all time franchise lead for points for the Anaheim Ducks, scoring his 670th point in an Anaheim jersey, one week later Selanne had one of his best games in recent memory, scoring a his 20th career hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks, cementing his place in the record book passing Maurice “Rocket” Richard, scoring his 546th goal putting him 25th on the all time list. The same game where he recorded his 600th career assist.
In 2008 Selanne signed on for 2 more seasons. Early in the season, he scored his 21st career hat trick, making him the most decorated hat trick artist currently active in the NHL. The same season he scored his 560th goal, tying him with Guy Lafleur for 20th on the all time list (he would pass him soon after). In mid-December, tragedy struck as Selanne suffered a quad injury keeping him out for a month. He returned to strong play, leading an unlikely playoff push. Beating out the number one seeded Sharks in 6 games before being eliminated in 7 games by the Wings.
In 2009 Teemu Selanne announced that the 2009-10 season would be his last, he would play one more season alongside his best friend Saku Koivu who recently had signed with the Ducks. (although this would prove false), stating “A man my age does not belong in a league like the NHL”. Selanne would prove his own statement wrong, as he would go on to score his 600th career goal that season, becoming only the 18th player in NHL history to accomplish such a feat, and became only the 3rd Calder Trophy winner to accomplish such a feat (alongside legendary company named Mario Lemieux and Luc Robitaille). Late in the season Selanne would do something that every kid wants to grow up to do, he surpassed his idol, scoring his 602nd and 603rd goals on April 2nd, passing Jari Kurri for the most goals by a Finnish born player (Previously 601 by Kurri). Despite not putting up career numbers, Selanne did play extremely well, he had his feet under him and outskated a seriously underachieving Ducks team filled with youthful talent, night in and night out.
Selanne shocked everyone outside of Anaheim by returning for the 2010-11 season (I say this because anyone who watched him play late in the 2009-10 season saw the spark in his eyes, his desire to continue to play, there was no way he was hanging up the skates). He signed another one year contract with the Ducks and had one of his best seasons of the 2000s. He scored 80 points in 73 games putting him 8th in the entire NHL in scoring. During this season he would pass Joe Sakic for 14th all time in NHL scoring with his 626th goal, (would increase to 637 by the end of the season) along with scoring his 1300th career point. Selanne’s defying of logic continued as he became the oldest player to ever score on a penalty shot (at the age of 40) along with becoming the first 40 year old player to score 5 points, with a hat trick in a single came. Along with becoming the first NHL player in history to score 4 game-tying goals in the last three minutes of a game in one season. Doing so in only 40 days. The Ducks would have an extremely underwhelming Playoff experience as they were manhandled by a surprising performance from the Nashville Predators.
Surely following such a strong season, and a weak playoff push, Selanne would FINALLY hang up the skates right? WRONG! Selanne signed for yet another one year contract to play in the 2011-12 season at the age of 41. Early in the season, he scored 2 goals and 2 assists, Becoming the oldest player in NHL history to record 4 points in a single game (Previously held by Tim Horton). Selanne continued to show that age doesn’t define play as he was easily the strongest skating Duck out there every game. He looked like a spring chicken as he astounded everyone who watched. Selanne returned to Winnipeg in December to play against the Winnipeg Jets, the first time he had been there since 1996… I remember this game like it was yesterday, I was on a plane watching the game. The sheer respect that arena displayed for Selanne. The standing ovation he received, the look in his eyes sent shivers up my spine, not to mention that applause resumed every single time he touched the puck (Despite him being on THE OTHER TEAM!) It was truly one of the most memorable memories I have as a hockey fan. Selanne showed why he is such a class act later on in the season, as he was elected to go to the All-Star game at the age of 41, he responded by saying he’s had his time in the spotlight and instead convinced the NHL to elect his teammate Corey Perry to take his place. In late February Selanne scored his 20th of the season, becoming the oldest player to score 20 goals in one season since Johnny Bucyk during the 1976-77 season. Selanne finished the season with 66 points. While the Ducks missed the playoffs, Selanne still looked stupendous all season.
Selanne’s current totals are astounding, he currently has 663 goals, only 2 behind Jaromir Jagr (the only other active player in the top 25 goal scorers of all time, Jarome Iginla is the next closest at 516 sitting in 35th place). Selanne should have no problem cracking the top 10 as he is only 5 goals behind Luc Robitaille who currently sits at 10. Even 7th overall is not out of reach as he is only 31 goals behind the 7th place goal scorer (Mark Messier at 694). He would also be passing 2 of the greatest to ever play the game in the meantime, Steve Yzerman at 692 and Mario Lemieux at 690.
Additionally Selanne currently sits at 24th overall in regular season goals per game with a .494407 record, ahead of Jaromir Jagr, he also sits 4th overall in power play goals (and should move into 3rd passing Phil Esposito who is only one goal ahead of him). Selanne’s record numbers continue as he is 5th all time in game winning goals with 106, only 4 behind number 3 (Brett Hull at 110), 42nd in all time assists and 19th in points with a staggering 1406 in 1341 games. With a good season from Selanne he should move into 15th overall, passing Adam Oates and Bryan Trottier, if he can put up a mediocre 19 points and if he can put up 61 points he could move into 14th overall and pass Stan Mikita. All of this while not even cracking the top 25 in most games played…
It’s undeniable that Teemu Selanne is a future Hall of Famer, the question is how much more will this legend pile onto his legacy? He has already defied every critic saying he’s too old or would eventually lose a step. While it may be true that the Flash may lose a step eventually, he has shown no signs whatsoever that, that time will be anytime soon! Selanne is still one of the league’s top players and is the epitome of a class act. Teemu Selanne is one of the best to ever touch the ice and has another full season to show any nay’ sayers (if there are any left). If there is one player in the league who can prove that age is only a number…. Look no further than number 8 of the Anaheim Ducks.
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