Two months ago Teemu Selanne was home in Finland, and his aching left knee told him he could no longer defy the clock.
He was coming off surgery to clean out and repair the knee. His skates were well tucked away and looked like they'd be staying there.
"The whole month of July I was thinking it doesn't look very good," Selanne said. "I couldn't do much after two or three weeks. It's amazing how fast you lose the muscles around your knee. There were a lot of days where I felt, 'I don't know if this is going to work anymore.'"
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Selanne suffered a setback in his recovery as recently as last month, but he strengthened the area enough to become pain-free and announced Thursday that at age 41, he will return for a 19th NHL season.
The announcement comes two days before the Anaheim Ducks open training camp and is a big relief to the team, which won't have to worry about replacing a player who was eighth in the League in scoring last season.
"We are ecstatic to have Teemu back," Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli said in a press release issued by the team. "His devotion to our organization, his teammates, and the fans is unparalleled. He is a true Duck at heart and we can't wait to see him flying down the ice again this season."
Selanne told reporters in a conference call that his one-year, $4 million contract wasn't put in place until Wednesday because he tabbed that as the deadline to gauge progress on his knee.
"I was very happy in the last month or so that I was skating with no pain, and that's a good sign," he said. "I'm very optimistic that it (knee) is going to last."
Even if Selanne was undecided at the start of camp, the Ducks would have given him a professional tryout contract to keep him in camp and allow him time to decide, as they have done in the past with him and Scott Niedermayer.
Since the 2007 Stanley Cup season, Selanne deliberately has taken his status year-to-year and playfully danced around the retirement question.
But Selanne all but conceded this will be the last go-round.
"It's got to stop somewhere," he said. "I look at this as my last year, and hopefully it's going to be a good one."
Selanne will be hard-pressed to match last season's 31 goals and 49 assists, which tied Henrik Zetterberg of Detroit with 80 points. But that challenge is why Selanne keeps going.
"I was very happy in the last month or so that I was skating with no pain, and that's a good sign. I'm very optimistic that it (knee) is going to last." -- Teemu Selanne
"I really feel I can still play at the same level as in the past," he said. "If you can't do that, I don't think I could enjoy the game as much and there would be no way I'd come back. The main factor for me is that I can be healthy. My knee is OK to play at this level and I can use my speed and play at my level. That's why it took so long to make a decision."
Selanne is completing one of the great second acts in hockey history, one that began with the 2004-05 labor stoppage.
He underwent major surgery on his left knee during that time and subsequently scored 40 and 48 goals over the next two seasons.
Only freak injuries have limited him the past three seasons. He missed 17 games when a skate blade left him with a lacerated quadriceps in 2008-09, and he was limited to 54 games because of a broken hand from a slap shot and a fractured jaw from an errant puck in 2009-10.
Selanne did miss time with a groin strain last season, but the major concern was his knee, which flared up toward the end.
His return retains the Ducks' second-line duo of Selanne and fellow Finn Saku Koivu, and ensures another season from one of the NHL's deadliest power-play snipers.
It also ensures another year of smiles from a franchise icon, the organization's leader in goals, assists, points, power-play goals, game-winning goals and games played.
Selanne is 14th on the all-time goals list with 637, three behind No. 13 Dave Andreychuk. He's 27th on the all-time points list with 1,340, but just 54 behind No. 20 Luc Robitaille, and 58 away from Jari Kurri, the all-time leading scorer among Finnish-born players. His 236 power-play goals are tied for fifth, one behind fourth-place Brendan Shanahan.
His farewell tour will begin with a homecoming trip to Finland Oct. 7 as part of the 2011 NHL Premiere Games, and a return to Winnipeg, where he began his career, on Dec. 17.
Selanne said officials from the Winnipeg Jets contacted him to judge his level of interest in returning to the team he started his career with, but Selanne said he's too rooted in Southern California.
His long-time residence in southern Orange County is tucked away in a gated community near a golf course where he can escape to the links or relax with his family.
His three sons are familiar faces at Ducks practices, and Selanne cited their influence.
"They really love that I play hockey and they want to be a part of that," Selanne said. "They've enjoyed it as much as I have, and that's a good thing. … They're worried if I retire, can they hang around the locker room and go to the games. We're a hockey family."