Really, it isn't supposed to end this way for Teemu Selanne
Players as good, as fun as the Anaheim Ducks
' 41-year-old winger, are lucky if they pop up once in a generation. Selanne has bridged the gap between at least two, and today he's as exciting as ever, providing the rest of the League and its 15-years-younger stars with a nightly how-to guide on staying vital and relevant. When it's 2012 and you were a rookie during the first Bush administration, you're not supposed to lead your team in scoring, but that's where Selanne finds himself.
And therein lies half the problem; Selanne, for all his talents, shouldn't lead Anaheim in scoring. Despite the presence of Selanne, 2011 Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry
, Ryan Getzlaf
and Bobby Ryan
, the Ducks dug themselves such a hole early in the season that coach Randy Carlyle
was fired before November was over. A post-New Year’s surge brought Anaheim back into the playoff discussion, but the Ducks have since lost steam.
Now, as March winds down, Selanne is faced with potentially ending his career with his team toward the bottom of the Western Conference. Considering his motivations in September -- Selanne made his latest "one more and we’ll see" decision because he thought Anaheim was a legitimate Cup contender -- the end may be even less satisfying than the standings show.
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A look at Selanne’s 20th season so far:
Selanne, coming off an 80-point 2010-11 season, announced he was returning for another, joking in a video posted on the Ducks' website that his middle name was "one more."
"I really enjoyed the challenges last year, and that’s brought me back again," Selanne said the next day after signing a one-year, $4 million contract, referring to the disappointment the team felt after its first-round playoff loss to Nashville, and the appeal of taking care unfinished business.
Not that the unfinished business was his fault -- Selanne scored 6 goals against Nashville, including one that put Anaheim up 1-0 in Game 6. The Ducks went on to lose and dropped the series, 4-2.
"Last year was so much fun. In the past summers, I’ve been thinking about whether I still wanted to play hockey. This summer it was clear that I wanted to play hockey, but the question was whether I could," Selanne said.
Those questions came in the wake of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, a procedure in July that, at least initially, had Selanne and Ducks GM Bob Murray
fearing the worst.
"The whole month of July, it wasn’t looking good," Selanne said. By the time August rolled around, though, he’d seen improvement -- and then, by his self-imposed Sept. 16 deadline, he’d seen enough to make a decision.
Against the Washington Capitals
, Selanne became the fourth player in the last 30 years to have at least a four-point game at age 41 or older. The accomplishment came during a crushing defeat.
Anaheim blew a 3-0 lead, allowing Nicklas Backstrom
’s tying goal with 42 seconds left in regulation -- then lost in overtime, also on a Backstrom goal. The loss dropped Anaheim to 5-5-2. It would be the last time the Ducks saw .500 until mid-February.
"(Selanne has) done his part and continues to," Carlyle told reporters after the loss. "Other people have got to step up."
Anaheim lost its seventh straight and 12th in 13 games, wasting another lead and falling 5-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs
"There has been a lot of talking and a lot of meetings," Selanne said. "There really is no answer. It seems to me that nothing works. When things go bad, they really go bad. You try to stay positive and find some bright sides, but I don’t really see any bright sides really. It’s just unbelievable right now. I don’t know what to say."
Anaheim would go on to beat Montreal the next day, but the decision had been made: Carlyle was out, and Bruce Boudreau
-- fired himself by the Washington Capitals
about 65 hours earlier -- was in. At the time, Anaheim was 7-13-4, tied for the second-worst record in the League.
"I was shocked," said Selanne, who formed a close bond with Carlyle during the team's 2007 Stanley Cup run. "I thought some guys were going to go before the coaches. It's a tough business. I'm really disappointed we didn't do better."
The Selanne legend -- in North America, at least -- started in Winnipeg in 1992-93, when he set rookie records with 76 goals and 132 points for the Jets. The Jets traded him to the Ducks before moving to Phoenix in 1996.
Right Wing - ANA
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 37 | PTS: 58
SOG: 182 | +/-: 9
The NHL's return to Winnipeg begat Selanne’s return to the city, and the fans embraced him like he was still one of their own -- chanting his name before the national anthems, watching a highlight video and cheering when he touched the puck.
Of course, it also helped that the Jets won 5-3, dropping the Ducks to a 9-18-5 record.
"It was something that I could never imagine," said Selanne, who added he'd at least entertained the thought of signing with the Jets and returning to Manitoba. "It was so special. It was a tough loss, but I was really excited every second."
It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time, but Murray told ESPN.com that he wasn’t trading Selanne unless Selanne asked.
"No, he’s retiring a Duck and that’s the way it’s going to be," Murray said. "But the way he’s playing, why should he retire?"
Selanne's 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) led the Ducks, who had the League’s second-lowest point total (23) and a 9-19-3 record.
Jan. 12, 2012:
The NHL released its All-Star rosters. Selanne (41 points in 41 games) was absent, but it was by choice. He lobbied for Perry to take his place.
"I honestly think that for young players (it's a) great opportunity," Selanne said at the time. "Perry was the MVP last year, and it's important he's there."
With the Ducks just eight points out of eighth place -- they were 20 off the pace on January 1 -- trade talk persisted, but Selanne wanted none of it.
"It’s time to enjoy every moment and make sure our way is going up in the standings not down. This is the time to push now and enjoy," Selanne told reporters in Detroit. "Hey, you never know. When you have a hot team going into the playoffs, nobody wants to face them. Hopefully that’s our story this season."
Selanne beat Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
with a nifty backhand shot, giving the Ducks a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
"There's a reason he's got a jillion goals in this league," Boudreau said after the game.
At the time, actually, he had 656 -- tied with Brendan Shanahan
for 12th all-time in the NHL.
"This game was huge for us," Selanne said. "We got here at like 3 in the morning. They came out pretty hard and controlled the first period and then we got into the game. This team is playing with a lot of confidence right now, and even though we got behind we believed we could come back."
The win left Anaheim 14-3-3 since New Year's Day, tied with the Detroit Red Wings
for the most points in the NHL over that stretch, and kept them within six points of eighth place in the Western Conference.
Anaheim beat Carolina 3-2 in a shootout. Selanne went pointless, but the Ducks concluded a 5-1-2 road trip and were within four points of eighth place.
They haven’t gotten closer.
In the Ducks’ 3-1 win over the Blackhawks, Selanne scored a power-play goal and added an assist, moving past Luc Robitaille
into 20th on the NHL’s all-time point list. The power-play goal, No. 246 of his career, put him one behind Robitaille for fourth in League history.
He also became the second-oldest player in NHL history to score at least 21 goals in a season, trailing only Gordie Howe
, who did it twice after his 41st birthday.
Anaheim improved its 2012 record to a league-best 17-4-4 (38 points), and stood six points out of eighth place.
"After 15 days on the road, it's never easy to come back," Selanne said after the game. "The tank was pretty empty, but I was very happy with how we played, especially the last two periods. That's a good feeling. We just keep battling."
In the days since, Selanne and the Ducks have continued their fight. But with four other teams separating them from the all-important eighth spot, it may be in vain.
For Selanne, then, the question becomes: Does the battle continue for "one more year?"