This year marked the last game of one of hockey’s all time great players: Teemu Selanne. The Finnish Flash has left an indelible mark on the NHL, setting many records along the way, as well as setting a huge mark on international hockey. Drafted 10th overall in 1988 by the original Winnipeg Jets franchise, his draft class included other greats such as Mike Modano, Trevor Linden, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour (all picked before him), as well as Mark Recchi, Tony Amonte, and Rob Blake. Selanne was the highest drafted European player that year, and the only one drafted in the first round.
Returning home after being drafted to play for Jokerit, as well as to fulfill his mandatory military service, he led his team to a championship in the SM-Liiga, the top-flight hockey league in Finland in 1992, his last year before coming to play for the Winnipeg Jets of old, and Jokerit’s first since the use of the Kanada-malja cup in 1976. Since then, Jokerit has been the source of many elite Finnish players, such as Valtteri Filppila, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, and both Ruutu brothers.
Selanne made his NHL debut on October 6, 1992, a relatively quiet game for him, the Jets won that game 4-1 against the Detroit Red Wings. Selanne would begin scoring immediately afterwards, though, as he scored in a 4-3 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks. The Jets would go on to finish 4th in the Smythe Division, good enough to qualify for the playoffs, in which they bowed out to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Selanne would go on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy, the first of many individual trophies he would go on to receive, as well as earning a spot as the Right Wing in the All-Star team, centered by Mario Lemieux.
In addition to the Calder Memorial Trophy, Selanne would also score 76 goals, and 132 points, the most goals and points by a rookie, as well as the current standing franchise record for the Winnipeg Jets / Phoenix Coyotes. Selanne would also go on a scoring spree that would last 9 games, the longest in franchise history.
This scintillating form was marred by the infamous sophomore slump the following season, as well as a severed Achilles tendon injury against his future team, the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Selanne would not see NHL action for a while, as the 1994-95 season was truncated by a lockout, in which he returned to his Finnish team, Jokerit.
The following season, Selanne returned to his rookie form, and starting producing again; however, a struggling Jets franchise decided to lighten their financial load and decided to trade him halfway through the season to the Mighty Ducks in a package that sent him, Marc Chinouiard and a fourth draft pick in exchange for Chad Kilger and Oleg Tvedovski. During the 1995-96 season, Selanne met linemate Paul Kariya, and the two of them would lead the Mighty Ducks to the playoffs for the very first time. During his first tenure in Anaheim, Selanne would go on to become the first European player to be selected MVP in the All-Star Game, as well as winning the very first Maurice Richard Trophy since its inception in the 1998-99 season.
During Anaheim’s struggles in the 2000-01 season, Selanne was traded to the San Jose Sharks, despite requiring surgery to remove loose cartilage in his knee. Selanne was then the source of controversy, as he blocked a potential trade to the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03, and turned down a $6.5 million per year contract in 2003-04 in favor of a $5.8 million per year contract with Colorado, where he would be reunited with former Anaheim linemate Paul Kariya. The move would prove to be unwise, as Selanne struggled all season, with his worst statistical season ever, 16 goals, 32 points. In addition to his scoring prowess seeming to disappear, Selanne’s loose knee cartilage had also made a return, forcing him to take the following locked out season off to recover from another knee surgery.
Selanne decided to test the free agency market when the NHL resumed play in 2005-06, eventually coming to terms with the Mighty Ducks to a one-year, $1 million contract. During this season, Selanne appeared to have a rebirth, as he scored his 1000th career point, becoming the 70th player to hit the milestone. For his resurgence in the NHL, he was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as well as earning a raise to $3.75 million per year. During the 2006-07 season, Selanne would go on to break many records, becoming the second player from Finland to score 500 goals (Jari Kurri being the first), playing his 1000th career goal, and breaking Paul Kariya’s franchise record in goals by scoring his 301st as a Duck. For all his hard work, Selanne was rewarded with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, finally raising the cup for the first time in his career. The Ducks would go on to remain competitive, but not win the Stanley Cup again during his tenure.
In addition to his contributions to the NHL, Selanne is also Finland’s longest tenured Olympian, appearing in 5 Olympic tournaments, beginning in 1998 in Nagano and culminating in Sochi this year. Selanne won 3 bronze medals (1998, 2010, 2014), and 1 silver medal (2006), earning the MVP in 2014. Selanne has the most points in Olympic competition with 43 throughout 5 Olympics.
Selanne has done many great things for Finnish hockey, ushering in many talented Finnish players, and retiring as the top-scoring Finnish player, surpassing Jari Kurri. As one of the last remaining members of the original Winnipeg Jets (only Nikolai Khabibulin and Shane Doan remain), one would be hard pressed to think of any current talent that can rival Teemu Selanne.
Selanne considers Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya the best friends he earned in the NHL, and for now, I think the Finnish Flash will enjoy a rest. I don’t believe he will stay away from hockey for long, as Joe Sakic is the Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations in Colorado, and just may convince his best friend to become an executive for the franchise that brought them all together.