Wednesday, November 7, 2007

NHL Player Profiles: Teemu Selanne

Heading into the NHL's Hockey Hall of Fame weekend, it's a good time for many fans to look back at their favourite retired players of all time. Joe Pelletier at Greatest Hockey Legends came up with the idea to get as many hockey bloggers onside in posting profiles and memories of NHL players from the past.

My entry is in the de facto retired category. While Teemu Selanne may still end up returning to the NHL, he is already considered one of the game's great players.

***

Teemu Selanne exploded into the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1992-93 season at the age of 22. Though a 10th overall pick by the Jets in the 1988 entry draft, he played in his native Finland for four seasons after being selected by Winnipeg.

SelanneHis record setting year was something to behold for fans in Winnipeg. Playing on a line with Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk, Selanne started filling the net early on and just kept scoring as the season progressed. He was also helped out by the play-making ability of defenseman Phil Housley.

I took in a handful of regular season games that year in Winnipeg. The one that stands out for me was a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the season.

My room-mate at the time was a student from Ontario who had reluctantly come to Winnipeg to study at the only law school in the country that would accept him. He was a rabid Leafs fan and so we bought tickets for the game, one of two they played against the Jets in Winnipeg that year.

One thing that resonated for me during Selanne's rookie season was not only his speed and scoring but his ability to, on occasion, lay some crushing body checks against opponents. Though I was unable to watch him during most of his post-Winnipeg NHL career, I doubt that trend continued beyond his first few years in the league.

Selanne had a serious injury early on in his career and scoring was of course his real strength but boy did he hammer some opposing players in that first season.

During that game against Toronto, Selanne leveled two Leafs players in a single shift, sending most of the fans into a frenzy. As we looked down on the action in the Jets' end, Selanne took out a Toronto skater just as he sent the puck around the boards and behind the net to another Leafs player on the opposite side of the rink. Selanne flashed across the ice to crush the unlucky player as he touched the puck. The Jets went on to win the game 5-3.

The Winnipeg media seemed as thrilled as anyone that this good-natured, instant NHL superstar in the midst of setting a rookie scoring record was also willing to get involved in the physical side of the game. I still remember Selanne, who spoke with slightly accented English at the time, responding to a post-game question from a reporter who asked about his hitting. With his usual big smile and understated tone, Selanne responded that "when they kick you, sometimes you have to kick back."

Despite a great season for Selanne personally, the Jets were mediocre as usual and exited the playoffs in the first round. Selanne wouldn't see post-season action again in Winnipeg and not for another five years until he was playing with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Nor would he play another complete slate while with the Jets due to a torn achilles tendon in his second season, the lockout shortened 1994-95 campaign and the trade near the end of '95-96.

SelanneSelanne is probably the most talented NHL player ever to be dealt in two separate such lopsided trades. The first time was when he was shipped out of Winnipeg to Anaheim with Marc Chouinard and a fourth round pick in exchange for Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a third round pick.

Panned as one of the worst NHL trades ever, it was near the end of the Jets' last season in Winnipeg in 1996 before moving to Phoenix. Perhaps a colossal snub to the new owners who would take over the following year or more probably just a panic move from a group that was struggling financially and trying to lessen some of the damage.

Selanne had some hugely productive years in Anaheim playing alongside Paul Kariya. In 2001 when it appeared as though his career was on the decline, he was shipped out to the San Jose Sharks for Steve Shields, Jeff Friesen and a draft pick. With the Sharks he had some steady seasons, if unspectacular compared to his earlier efforts.

Teemu was being bothered by a wonky knee and that contributed to his worst output in 2003-04 while playing with the Colorado Avalanche, who he had signed with as a free agent before the start of the season.

He underwent knee surgery in the off-season and didn't play any professional hockey during the lockout 2004-05 season, which he had initially planned to spend with Jokerit Helsinki in Finland. He re-signed with the Mighty Ducks for the 2005-06 season and that marked the beginning of possibly the most impressive late career resurgence ever by an NHL player.

After that stunning rookie season, Selanne tallied 100 points or more on three other occasions, all coming during his first six season stretch with the Mighty Ducks (most of the '96 campaign spent with the Jets.)

He came the closest to reaching that level again in his final two seasons with Anaheim. The surgery, a year spent recovering and practicing hard and the effects of the league trying to eliminate interference in the NHL resulted in point totals for Selanne that were near his peak years.

SelanneIt would be hard to script a better finish for the Finnish Flash than the 2006-07 season. The newly christened Anaheim Ducks (no more "Mighty") won the Stanley Cup and Selanne was 11th overall in regular season points at the age of 36 and third in goals with 48.

The Winnipeg Jets had no real playoff success during their existence as a franchise. They made it to the second round of the playoffs only twice and never beyond that stage. A handful of good seasons, well played games and series and great players are the memories that fans of the former team hold on to.

The history of the Jets is also absent any major player awards with the exception of two Calder trophies for the NHL rookie of the year, presented to Dale Hawerchuk in 1982 and Selanne in '93.

So that rookie season by Selanne is without a doubt one of the highlights in the history of an ultimately disappointing and failed organization. His relentlessly upbeat and positive personality and his on-ice performance will have Jets fans reminiscing for years to come.

While already having financial difficulties and trying to look forward to ways to keep the team in Winnipeg, many fans probably saw that great season by Selanne as a sign of good things to come for the club but of course it wasn't to be.

Though still pondering a return to the NHL, if Selanne never plays another game in the world's premier league, he would be one of the few who went out at the very top.

1 comment:

  1. Ah those were the days. Living in Winnipeg back then, I enjoyed the breath of fresh air that came with Selanne.

    A sad franchise, the Jets. Maybe Gretzky can do something with them, as they are now the Phoenix Coyotes.

    -The GSOB

    ReplyDelete