ANAHEIM – For a few lucky Anaheim Ducks fans, patience paid off after a recent game.
More than an hour after Anaheim lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Honda Center on March 10, loyal Ducks fans milled about the north side of the building, hoping to get autographs from departing players.
Teemu Selanne, the popular veteran forward, stopped and signed, parking close to the loading dock.
There was just one slight problem.
"I blocked the intersection," Selanne said with a laugh. "The one bus came there and the driver was yelling, 'What are you doing?' [I said], 'Don't worry about it.' "
After 21 years, more than 1,400 games played and thousands of autographs signed, Selanne can block an intersection here or there, especially when he is once again giving back to the fans.
SOG: 111 | +/-: 8
"It's funny because I think we have approached that kind of thinking, and been saying goodbyes for years already and we start laughing," Selanne said. "But there are a lot of people around the League that I've known for a long, long time. That's what I'm going to miss most, I think, and hanging around with the guys in the locker room. That's going to be the toughest, to let it go."
Earlier this month, Selanne sat down with a half-dozen local beat writers at his steakhouse in Laguna Beach for a wide-ranging discussion about his career. It was the kind of engaging conversation befitting the NHL's ultimate people person, and he seemed quite at ease with the second stage of his life on the immediate horizon.
Selanne said he hasn't reflected much about his legacy this season.
"If I would think about that, I would probably not come back after 2007," Selanne said. "It's tough when you have enough passion that I have. It's been fun. Obviously this [season] has been a little bit tougher, but the Olympics, even the outdoor game, it was unbelievable. I was like a little kid. It was really special. I'm very happy that I was part of that.
"You've got to see the whole picture. That's how it should be. When you get older, it has to start getting harder."
The tougher part is a reference to the reduced role Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau has given Selanne. Boudreau wisely rested Selanne in back-to-back games to keep him fresh and limited Selanne's ice time because he is no longer a top-six forward. Selanne has voiced his displeasure, but the question of how his final season will end is now the story.
Can the Ducks send him out on top? Or will has last game come in a visiting arena after a series loss? There is also the elephant in the room regarding Boudreau's history of first-round exits – two with the Washington Capitals and last season with the Ducks. All three of those series losses came in Game 7s.
"What we couldn't do last year was we couldn't take the next step," Selanne said. "That's why I always say you can't turn the switch on … [in the] playoffs, we have to take the next step."
Selanne said coming back for this season was the most difficult of his many retirement decisions. But the possibilities were laid out before him, and his love didn't wane.
Love from the fans was evident in the standing ovations for Selanne in Calgary, Edmonton, Florida and San Jose in the final weeks of the regular season. Even the rival Los Angeles Kings contacted the Ducks to inquire if Selanne would make his final regular season appearance at Staples Center on April 12.
Selanne played his last game against the Nashville Predators on April 4, and coach Barry Trotz acknowledged admiration for a player that had 53 points in 51 career games against him. Trotz's memory of Selanne goes back to when Trotz was an assistant coach at the University of Manitoba when Selanne broke in with the Winnipeg Jets.
"I've repeatedly said this when he hit 40: He's the fastest 40-year-old on the planet," Trotz said. "Above all that, he's had production for decades. But he's a guy that plays with joy. You talk about humble superstars, he's a guy that always has a smile on his face and always has time for people. To me, the professionalism of that; being humble, treating fans and people with great respect and playing with joy … he's one of my favorites of all time. I've told him that too."
It's a rare universal respect typically reserved recently for athletes such as Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees.
"He downplays it," Corey Perry said. "But when you see that, you want to give him his time and let him say 'Thank you.' The fans enjoy that. It's a great thing for everybody."
Can the noted agitator Perry envision having respect in every NHL arena?
"No. I tell you that right now," Perry said. "No chance. That would be something special to see."
Boudreau, as emotional as anyone in the sport, allowed himself to be a fan during Selanne's final regular-season games.
"I get the goose bumps like everybody else," Boudreau said. "You enjoy it. I wonder, sometimes, how it affects him, because he knows it's coming, but he's had so many accolades I think he takes it in stride.
"My first year, I'd come in here and watch my son play and he'd be sitting in the stands with the other parents watching his kids. I'd be going, 'Wow.' I'm not used to seeing such high-profile people being such a grounded person. It's part of his lovability and charm."
Last year, a Finnish documentary by JP Siili, "Sel8nne," was released. It showed all-access to Selanne and didn't shy from the negatives, including a potentially-fatal rally car accident early in his career and his older brother's incarceration. There is also an autobiography due out which has needed many rewrites.
"We have [worked on] the book 10 years," Selanne said. "It doesn't come out before I'm done."
Selanne seemed to indicate more will be revealed later but didn't divulge. He did provide some insight into his willingness to sign anything, anywhere at any time.
"When I was in elementary school I was practicing my autographs," Selanne said. "I got bored in the class. So I'm well prepared."