Anaheim's Teemu Selanne says a healthy knee was the key to his resurgence after a disappointing season with the Avalanche.
April 20, 2007
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Now 36, the Finnish right wing has proven that he can still perform with the best of them, and that a knee problem was the main cause of his troubles in Colorado.
Selanne, in his second tour of duty with the Anaheim Ducks, has become the first player in NHL history at his age to score 40 goals two seasons in a row.
Asked this week in a conference call with reporters to explain his rejuvenation, Selanne said undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in September 2004 after the World Cup of Hockey tournament enabled him to regain the skating ability that is so important for his game.
"I'm healthy," he said. "That gives me a chance to play at the level where you can play and use my speed and the tools that I have. When you can't use your speed . . . you're hurt, you can't play at (a high) level. You just lose so much passion and fun for the game.
"The passion is back and I'm really enjoying every day coming to the rink and everything. I think that's why I'm so excited. All those things together, it makes just a big difference."
Selanne was supposed to be a difference maker with the Avalanche after he and Paul Kariya were signed as free agents in July 2003. They had been highly successful sidekicks and great friends in Anaheim for parts of six seasons before Selanne was traded to San Jose in March 2001.
Being reunited with the Avalanche was a dream come true for the talented wingers, but it soon turned into a nightmarish season for both.
Kariya spent most of the season on the injured list and Selanne suffered through a 16-goal, 32-point campaign in 78 games in which he was sometimes relegated to the fourth line. He was especially miffed when then-coach Tony Granato benched him for a playoff game against the Sharks.
After the lockout, Selanne signed a one-year, $1 million contract to return to the Ducks (Kariya signed with Nashville) and responded with 40 goals and 90 points, his best totals in eight years. He was rewarded with another one-year deal, for $3.75 million, and he leads the Ducks in scoring with 41 goals and 83 points.
"I decided when I went into surgery, I knew it was going to be a long road and, obviously, it was going to take some luck to save my career," Selanne said. "I decided, if this knee is not going to be as good as I want, I can't play. There's no way I'm going to play at that level that I played a couple years because it is a waste of time. If you can't have the passion, the enjoyment that you had when you started when you were a little kid, it's not worth it.
"I knew it was going to be a long process and I was just so happy to realize that I can skate pain-free and I can do the normal things."
In retrospect, Selanne said his knee problems were a blessing because he might have taken for granted his ability to play so well before.
"I just was reborn again, and I really enjoy the time when I can play healthy and pain-free and everything," he said. "Those are things you don't appreciate so much when you're healthy and you don't have to face those problems."
Now that the Penguins have reached an agreement to build a $290 million arena and remain in Pittsburgh, players can concentrate on solidifying their playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
The revenue generated by the new arena also should help the Penguins hold onto their young stars.
"It helps a lot, especially in free agency and things like that," Sidney Crosby said.
Mellon Arena, which opened in 1961, will be demolished once the new arena is built across the street. The replacement building is expected to be ready before or during the 2009-10 season. A parking structure will be part of the development on the Mellon Arena site.
"I've said many times that my goal was to keep the Penguins here forever and eventually win the Stanley Cup," said Mario Lemieux, the former Penguins star and current part owner. "We have one out of the two. It's a good start."
On the radar
William "Boots" Del Biaggio, a limited partner in the Sharks who has contracted to own an NHL team in Kansas City, Mo., hasn't given up on the idea after failing to woo the Penguins.
"I don't think anything has changed for us," Del Biaggio told The Kansas City Star.
The Penguins were offered a sweetheart deal that included free rent and a share of arena revenues to play in the $276 million Sprint Center, which is scheduled to open in October.
Mark Faber, senior vice president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which will run the Sprint Center, said Del Biaggio is "still having active conversations with the NHL for the 2007-08 season."
Added Faber: "Just because the Penguins didn't happen, does not mean that we may not have an anchor tenant next fall."
The NHL has no immediate plans for expansion, but the Nashville Predators could move after next season if they don't average 14,000 fans for the second year in a row.
"Kansas City is on our radar screen, but we cannot respond to the interest at this point," commissioner Gary Bettman told The Star. "We'll have to see what the future holds."
Brad May has played in five games with the Ducks since his Feb. 27 acquisition from the Avalanche. He has no points and six penalty minutes while averaging 7:22 in ice time.
Peter Forsberg has missed as many games (seven) as he has played with the Predators since his Feb. 15 acquisition from the Flyers. He has one goal and five assists and is sidelined with what the team calls an upper body injury.
Crosby, then a whole lot of Sabres
Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, top left, has the top-selling NHL jersey, according to NHL.com, but six Buffalo Sabres players hold down the Nos. 2 through 7 spots, from left after Crosby: Daniel Briere, Ryan Miller, Maxim Afinogenov, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Chris Drury. Avalanche captain Joe Sakic is eighth, followed by Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Nashville's Peter Forsberg.
About Rick Sadowski
Rick Sadowski covers the NHL for the News. He has a degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati and has previously worked at the Newark Star-Ledger, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Los Angeles Daily News. He's covered hockey since 1981 and wrote two books about the Los Angeles Kings, most recently "Hockeywood" in 1993. He's covered the Avalanche since its arrival in Denver.