Teemu Selanne: Back in a flash
By Chris Iorfida
Perhaps no player better epitomizes the offensive evolution of the NHL over the last 15 years than Teemu Selanne.
As the league has prospered from rule changes and a penalty crackdown designed to open the play and create offensive chances, so too has Selannein his comeback season in Anaheim.
With a 90-point season (40 goals, 50 assists) and a 12-point performance to help lead his native Finland to a silver medal at the Torino Olympics, Selanne is resembling the Finnish Flash of old.
The trend has continued in the playoffs. After initially struggling to solve countryman Miikka Kiprusoff, Selanne was instrumental in helping the Ducks come back to win the last two games and their opening-round series against Calgary.
The 35-year-old then dazzled early in the Western semifinal against Colorado, scoring one goal and setting up two others —all highlight-reel worthy— in Game 1.
Selannecomes into theWestern Conference final against the Edmonton Oilers having amassedfive goals andfive assists in 11 playoff games this year.
In Game 3 of the Ducks' series against the Avalanche, Joffrey Lupul scored all four of the team's goals in an overtime win. As one of the league's premier goal scorers in recent history, Selanne's typically colourful opinion on such an outburst can't be discounted.
Patience the key: Selanne
"You know how you can't get the ketchup out of the bottle and you keep beating on it and beating on it, and nothing comes out," he told the Orange County Register. "Then, all of a sudden, here it comes — splat!
"That's how it is with goal scorers. You have to be patient. As long as you keep getting your chances, you feel it's going to happen. "
While Selanne landed in the league with quite a splat, patience has been hard-earned in subsequent years due to injuries, playoff disappointments, trades and diminished production.
Originally from Espoo, just outside the capital of Helsinki, Winnipeg drafted Selanne in the first round in 1988. After playing for his country in the 1992 Olympics, he joined the Jets in the fall.
The 22-year-old then produced what was, and is still, by far the best offensive showing for a rookie.
Bashes Bossy record
Selanne finished with 76 goals and 56 assists, obliterating the rookie goal-scoring record of 53 held by Mike Bossy and setting a new points mark by a similar wide measure.
Hockey observers marveled at the way he was seemingly always able to skate to open ice, as well as his shooting accuracy.
Even though he was preceded by Edmonton's Jari Kurri, notice was paid in Finland, with some Jets games broadcast as he pursued the rookie records.
His feats came at a time when Kurri, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull and a host of other talented players were at or near their peaks, victimizing teams and sending goals-against averages on an upward trajectory.
Selanne's 132 points were good for only fifth in scoring that season; a whopping 10 players had at least 123 points.
Injuries and the first lockout of his career prevented him from playing a full allotment of games the next two seasons. Near the end of his fourth year in Winnipeg, he was dealt to Anaheim.
Prospers with Kariya
In addition to the climate change, Selanne immediately warmed to his new teammates, especially playmaker Paul Kariya.
"I'm very excited," Selanne said not long after the deal. "I'm so happy. Right now, (the trade) is the best thing to ever happen to me. This is a first-class organization, there are great guys in the dressing room."
It was the beginning of a three-year period where he and Kariya prospered together, with Selanne recording between 47 and 52 goals each season.
With 109 points, he finished second in league scoring in 1996-97 to Mario Lemieux. It was a point total that would have ranked about 15th in the league during his rookie season.
Playoff success didn't ensue with Anaheim though, and when his production dipped, the team traded him in 2001 to a team with better prospects, the San Jose Sharks.
The NHL at the turn of the century was one where 50-goal men were becoming a rare breed.
Neutral zone traps, left-wing locks, clutch-and-grab defence and "Super Size Me" goaltending equipment were now fully-formed practices.
Selanne was one of the prime exhibits of the effects of the trend. Despite not missing a game in his two full seasons with the Sharks, he never cracked the 30-goal mark.
Suffers through ligament pain
The moves also didn't pay off in terms of the ultimate goal. Selanne continued a trend of never having been on a team that advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
In 2003, he had to watch as Kariya and several other former teammates on the Ducks embarked on a storybook post-season that was only denied in the final game of the Stanley Cup final.
He was also battling with ligament damage in his left knee that was also affecting his thigh muscles.
Despite the reduced mobility, Colorado was more than happy to reunite Selanne with Kariya and benefit from some of the old magic, signing the pair in the 2003 offseason.
The next season was a disappointment for both. Selanne had just 16 goals and as many assists in 78 games. He failed to score in 10 playoff contests.
Selanne has since joked it was actually his fraternal twin brother Paavo who was donning the Avalanche jersey that year, but it got so bad that he was seriously contemplating retirement.
That season before the lockout was also the offensive nadir for the league as a whole, as three players tied for the lead with 41 goals.
It was the lowest total to win a scoring championship since Gordie Howe's 38 in a 70-game schedule in 1962-63.
In post-lockout form
While the lockout provided uncertainty for most, for Selanne it was an opportunity to undergo reconstructive surgery on his knee.
While many other players indulged in travel, food and spirits during the time off, Selanne skated more than he ever had during his down time.
The hard work paid off. Signed to help provideveteran leadership on a team with a host of promising young offensive talent (Lupul, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf), Selanne had nine goals by the end of October.
In February, Selanne joined Kurri as the only Finnish-born players to reach 1,000 points in a career. He finished with 40 goals, his highest total in seven seasons.
The NHL had five players score more than 50 goals, the most in a decade.
Selanne now hopes to help Anaheim take the final step it nearly missed in the 2003 playoffs.
Whatever happens, it's the clear that as the league ventures into unknown territory post-lockout, Selanne is gladly along for the ride.