NEWARK, N.J.—There he stood in the visiting locker room at Prudential Center, drenched in sweat, slugging down the contents of a can of Diet Pepsi as he listened to a question he has been asked approximately 5,000 times.
“So…will you be thinking about coming back next year?”
The answer is a simple one and, unlike in the past, lacks any caveats that could leave the door open for one more season.
“No,” he says before flashing a smile, taking another sip of his Diet Pepsi.
This time, Teemu Selanne means it. The 43-year-old won’t see how his body feels this summer before making any decisions. He won’t examine the roster of the Anaheim Ducks to assess their chances at winning a Stanley Cup.
This will be his final season in the NHL, and he seems to finally be at peace with it.
“You’ve got to find a way to make the decision at the right time,” said Selanne, who made his intentions known before the season with a hilarious video. “This is it for me, for sure. My body is feeling it more and more. It’s still fun and everything, but you’ve got to stop somewhere.”
And so far, it’s going about as well as he could have hoped.
The Anaheim Ducks are running roughshod over the NHL with a 25-7-5 record and 55 points, second most in the league behind the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Selanne had a hand in the Ducks’ win against the New Jersey Devils on Friday, registering two assists in a 3-2 overtime victory that extended the team’s winning streak to seven games.
The team success is making this a dream season for Selanne, who after years of spitting in the face of time and kicking the aging process in the teeth, is beginning to show signs that he is human and not immune to decrepitude.
Thanks to a current three-game point streak (one goal, three assists), Selanne is up to four goals and 11 points in 29 games. It comes on the heels of a 16-game stretch without a point, by far the longest of his illustrious career that has seen him score 679 goals and 1,441 points.
Any time someone has to drop a comma into a player’s career point totals, it’s been quite the career.
But he is on pace for his lowest point total of his career in an 82-game season since, well, ever, as long as you exclude his 23-point season in 2007-08, when he didn’t decide to resume his career until January and had 23 points in 26 games.
|Teemu Selanne's Age-40 Seasons|
It’s been a struggle individually this season for the Finnish legend, who also missed three games after a high stick in Philadelphia cost him four of his teeth. But he believes his numbers will come, something that is inconsequential to him as long as the team continues to win.
“Lately, I’ve had some good chances and they haven’t gone in. It’s frustrating,” said Selanne, who has one goal in his past 22 games. “It would be tough if we were losing. But the good thing is the team is playing well. That’s what really matters. I would expect way more in the second half. My body is feeling good and that’s the bottom line. I’m not worried about that.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is doing what he can to conserve and preserve the body of Selanne by resting him for one game when the team plays on back-to-back days. He is also only playing about 14 minutes a night, the fewest of his career, another attempt by the team to keep him fresh for the second half and what they hope is a deep playoff run.
“He hasn’t played like he’s 27 anymore, but our team is a four-line team,” Boudreau said. “He still plays power play and regular shifts and still contributes and that’s what we want from him.”
All Selanne wants is one more kick at the Stanley Cup, a prize he won in 2007. That’s what has kept him coming back year after year when most players with his accomplishments would be enjoying a life of leisure. He appeared to have a great chance at walking off into the sunset with a second championship last season, but it all fell apart in unexpected fashion.
The Ducks entered the 2013 postseason as the No. 2 seed in the West after a 30-12-6 regular season but were stunned by the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the first round. The Ducks led the series 3-2 but dropped the final two games, including a 3-2 setback in Game 7 on home ice.
But more than anything, it was the depth of the Ducks that made Selanne’s decision—once again—to come back for one more season an easy one.
“That’s the only reason,” Selanne said. “I really felt that there’s something special going on with this team. I really believe we’re going to have a good shot to go far. If we would have had a bad team, it would have been an easy decision. We all felt last year that we had some unfinished business and let’s see how good we could be this year.
“But nothing comes easy.”
That apparently includes decisions about continuing a Hall of Fame career.
“No,” Selanne says. “This is it.”
But you say that every year.
“Yeah, but not like this before.”
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.