Teemu Selanne, at the tender age of 43, is returning to the Anaheim Ducks for his 21st NHL season. Twitter was all, well, atwitter on Friday afternoon following the announcement and Teemupalooza ’13-14 will likely continue for the rest of the season, as Selanne has indicated that this year will be his last (no, really…seriously…he’s not joking this time).
The man they call The Finnish Flash is a legend, an even better person, and a first ballot Hall of Famer, going away. Everybody knows this and loves to talk about it. What fewer hockey people are willing to discuss is whether Selanne’s return is truly in the best interest of the Anaheim Ducks.
Let’s get into this, shall we?
Selanne Returns; For The Best?
First things first, good on the Ducks for yet again coming up with a clever, viral way to announce Selanne’s return. Below is the video that contains Teemu’s decision.
The reaction on Twitter was swift and overwhelmingly, fittingly gushing.
Congratulations to my buddy Teemu Selanne for agreeing to come back this year to Anaheim What a great guy and family! See you soon my friend
— Brad May (@maydayhockey) August 30, 2013
— Dustin Penner (@Dustinpenner25) August 30, 2013
Look, I love Teemu just as much, if not more, than the next guy. He’s been a fixture in my hockey life since I became a fan many, many moons ago, and I’d be lying if I said I that the fanboy in me wasn’t excited to see him come back for one more year, but cold, hard, objective analysis makes me feel a different way.
Teemu may sit pretty on multiple of the NHL’s all-time scoring lists (15th in points with 1,430 and 11th in goals with 675), but last season saw his production take a major tumble, with only twelve goals and 24 points in 46 games, good for a 0.52 points per game average. For perspective, in his previous seven seasons, he had been clicking at a 0.98 PPG average.
There are, of course, various factors at play here. Although Selanne began last season on fire with sixteen points in his first eighteen games, the compacted game and travel schedule (thanks, Lockout 2.0!) began to take a toll, and Teemu finished the campaign with only eight points over the last two months of the season, and three in seven playoff games. Observationally, he seemed a step slow and not strong enough to win puck battles for much of the season. The cruel march of time seems to have finally caught up with the heretofore ageless Teemu Selanne.
This season will, of course, serve as the final tell as to whether his severe statistical regression was a clear signal of the beginning of the end, or an aberration owing to a difficult schedule.
Teemu’s seeming inability to produce offense at the pace to which we’ve been accustomed isn’t the only worrisome detail here, though. He isn’t exactly a defensive stalwart, and he’s not high on the list of candidates to transition from offensive powerhouse to two-way role player – especially not this late in his career. His +/- -10 rating was his worst since 2001. If he can’t contribute on the score sheet, where can he?
In taking almost all summer to decide whether or not to retire, he essentially handcuffed Anaheim General Manager Bob Murray in making improvements to a roster widely criticized for lacking depth. The Ducks badly need a legitimate second line center to play behind Ryan Getzlaf, and a team that finished the 2013 season with terrible possession numbers certainly could have done worse than signing Mikhail Grabovski, who was very much available this summer.
Further, looking to the future, Anaheim has an embarrassment of riches in young wingers, including Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly, and newly acquired Jakob Silfverberg. Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau often played Etem and Palmieri in favor of Selanne down the stretch last season, and it appears as though several of the above names are poised for breakout seasons. While Selanne’s return was apparently contingent upon being given the opportunity to play top six minutes and time on the first power play unit, if Boudreau is being fair, it will be difficult to justify playing the aging star in lieu of young players who represent Anaheim’s future and are in need of quality minutes to further their development.
While his reported $2M salary is fair market value given Selanne’s numbers in the previous season, the Ducks are already hard up against the salary cap and almost certainly already over their self-imposed internal cap (although Sheldon Souray’s Long Term Injury Reserve status will buy Murray some space for the first few months of the season).
The allure of playing for one final Stanley Cup, as well as the opportunity to compete in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi convinced Teemu to come back for one more go of it, but his ability to contribute on the scoreboard is very much in question. Will Selanne, along with young guns Etem, Palmieri, Silfverberg, et al. be able to help offset the goals lost in the Bobby Ryan trade? Or would the Ducks have been better off entrusting the secondary scoring department to the Ducklings while bolstering a thin blue line, or perhaps acquiring an established (and younger) top six forward via trade or free agency? Only time will tell.
Although many Anaheim fans will tell you differently, it’s not heretical to question the true value – nostalgia-tinged or not – Selanne will bring to the table this season. It’s analyzing without bias. Sports history is full of superstar players who played for one season too long, and I fear Selanne is in grave danger of falling into that trap this season.
For now though, all that’s left to be done is dust off the #8 Ducks sweaters, warm-up those vocal cords, and get ready to cheer, because Anaheim’s favorite son is back, for better or worse.