I’ve always been the type of person that, when there is a big decision in front of me, I take a lot of time and look at things from different angles and different perspectives. Sometimes I feel like I keep it too much and maybe try to come up with answers that aren’t there.
But looking back through my decision process, it kind of started a year ago last summer. Before, it was never a problem for me to get up and go for a run or go to the gym and get back in shape, skating in August and preparing for camp. It was the first time in my career where it was like, Man, it’s not as easy anymore. Then when we started the season, I was asking the question a little too often of, Why am I here and is this really worth it and what’s the purpose of still playing? You have your family and you have your kids and you miss their activities on the weekends and stuff. When you’re in the middle of the season, you push these thoughts away and focus on the games.
I felt that I was coming toward the end of my career, and then I had the concussion thing last November and December, where I missed quite a bit of time. That was kind of the first time where I really had to sit down and think about the whole picture. It was my first concussion. I played for 18 or 19 years, almost 20 years in the pro leagues and nothing like this had happened before.
After the last game against the Kings, I remember I was the last guy who came off the ice. I hugged Teemu and congratulated him on his career and I said, “I feel so privileged that I played with you.” He said, “The same, but your last season is ahead of you.” I told him I really felt like this might be it for both of us. That feeling just grew stronger and stronger over the summer. I wanted to give myself as much time as possible to maybe change my mind and start working out to get ready for another season. But that feeling never came. I haven’t been on skates since the last game against the Kings, and I strongly feel this is the right decision for me and my family at this point of my life.
The Ducks not signing me in July or end of June also made it easier for me to make the decision. There was no way for me at the end to start moving my family and go somewhere for maybe another year. When you put things in perspective and think about at this age, for me and the career that I’ve had, the setup and the environment has to be perfect for me to come back. I felt that was not the case, and it made more sense for both sides that the Ducks continue without me. Even if they did offer me a contract, I don’t think I would have been back. When you hear a team say, we’re not going to sign up and we’re going in a different direction, it’s disappointing to hear and it hurts a bit. But I expected it and kind of knew it was going to happen, so it didn’t take me much time to see the potential of how much more there is in life and what else the future might hold for me.
My first four or five years in the league, I had some unfortunate injuries with the shoulder and knees, and then when I was 27 or 28 years old, I went through the cancer and missed almost a complete year. Now, still playing 1,110-plus games and more than 10 years after that, it really feels amazing, and I feel so fortunate about it. If you asked me back then if that was possible, I would have said no way. After my chemo, I told the doctor I wanted to come back that year, and he said, “You’re insane. Maybe you’ll never play because we don’t know the effect the treatment is going to have on you.” But being here in 2014, it’s pretty amazing.
That spring, coming back and then being able to play with the team in the playoffs, that whole year is something that my family and I will never forget. The whole thing became more than just hockey, with setting up the foundation and raising the money. The legacy in Montreal became about more than just scoring goals and points. That’s a huge part of my life and my career, but you always remember the first game and the first goal, both as a Montreal Canadien and as a Duck. But when you play in the NHL, the one thing everybody wants is to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be a part of a team that did that, but there were a few good runs through the playoffs with the Ducks, and we just couldn’t put it together at the right moment. That’s unfortunate, but even though I didn’t have the team success in the NHL, fortunately I was a part of some great teams for Team Finland that won four Olympic medals and World Championship medals. When you’re part of a team in pro sports, the winning becomes everything. When you win and you do well, you remember those teams and those moments.
I always considered myself as a very honest player, a responsible two-way player, but most of all I feel my strongest point was how I competed and how I was a team player. It was more about the mental strength and giving it all not just every game but every shift. I worked hard to accomplish the things that were possible.
When you’ve been part of the game for this long, and at a high level, the knowledge you gather and the relationships you gain through the years, you don’t want to waste that. I’ve always been fascinated with coaching, but right now it’s about spending time with my family. I’ll be an assistant coach for my son, who’s eight years old. I’ll start there, and I’m pretty sure hockey will play some role in my life from now on. We’ll stay here for this year, and California has been amazing for me and my family. There is a good chance we’ll end up leaving here, but we’ll have to decide if we’re going to have a home here in the next five or 10 years and have the kids go to school here or if we’re going back to Finland. That is still a question mark, but right now I want to give myself a little breathing room and try to enjoy this lifestyle, then see the future from there.