This Finn still can finish

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At 40, Selanne is not slowing down

OTTAWA — Beware the Duck Finns. The Finns on the Anaheim Ducks, that is.   Maybe Teemu Selanne, at age 40, is such a freak of nature it throws all rational analysis out the window.

It’s hard not to notice how much mileage Anaheim is getting out of its aging Finnish free agents, Selanne and Saku Koivu, compared to what the Ottawa Senators — who host the Ducks tonight — have received from Russian elders Alex Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar. 

Selanne and Koivu are a combined 76 years old, and have combined for 65 points in 86 games at a combined salary of $7 million US. Kovalev and Gonchar are a combined 73 years old, have 38 points in 88 games combined at a collective salary of $10.5 million. 

Pretty lopsided value chart. 

Gonchar is a defenceman, of course, while the other three players are forwards. But Gonchar was signed to create offence, and with 20 points and minus-16, he is miles off his career norms (eight times he has had 50-plus points). Meanwhile, Kovalev is out with a knee injury, related to off-season surgery, and has contributed 18 points in 42 games this season.

We haven’t even mentioned Finnish defenceman Toni Lydman, the former Calgary Flame and Buffalo Sabre, who is now with the Ducks. After struggling with the Sabres in 2009-10, Lydman is enjoying a renaissance in California, playing 23 minutes per game on an overhauled blue-line — a plus-25, with 19 points. 

Lydman, 33, is a $3-million player, a nice free-agent pickup by Ducks general manager Bob Murray last July 1.

When it came to Selanne, Murray had to make sure he was coming back for one more go-around, and then accommodate a $4.5-million salary, $1.25 million of which involves performance bonuses Selanne is bound to hit. 

Last season, Selanne played for the bargain-basement salary of $2 million, so badly did he want to remain with the team he helped lead to the 2007 Stanley Cup. 

In his most recent game, Selanne scored twice on Sunday to pace the Ducks past the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 Sunday evening. It lifted him to career point No. 1,300.

On the season, Selanne has 14 goals and 41 points, second on the team to Corey Perry.

By now, we should accept that the exceptional is normal for the Finnish Flash. With his silky-smooth stride, in the class of a Paul Coffey or Scott Niedermayer, Selanne could seemingly play for years to come, if he wanted. Imagine if Selanne had retired in 2004, as he nearly did? 

Though he never lost his scorer’s instinct, his knee was so bad he struggled to get to openings, scoring just 16 goals for the 2003-04 Colorado Avalanche and none in 10 playoff games. His fellow Finns talked him into joining them in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey in Canada, and Finland reached the final against the host Canadians, but Selanne scored just once in six games.

The lockout, which hurt and helped careers throughout the hockey world, was a godsend for Selanne, enabling him to have the reconstructive surgery he had been avoiding for two years. 

“I couldn’t play on one leg any longer, I was wasting my time,” Selanne said at the Turin Olympics. “I’d rather play golf.”

After rejoining the Ducks in 2005, a rejuvenated Selanne scored 88 goals over his next two seasons, with 10 playoff goals during the Cup run he nearly missed out on. 

At the 2006 Games, although the Finns lost in the gold-medal game to their Swedish rivals, Selanne was on top of his game, a six-goal scorer on the top line Olympic line alongside Koivu and Jere Lehtinen. When he does decide he has had enough, the Hockey Hall of Fame awaits his arrival. 

With 620 career goals, Selanne is the active NHL leader. He passed the great Bobby Hull earlier this year and is just five behind Joe Sakic for 14th place among the league’s all-time snipers. 

Only three Europeans have scored 600 goals, and they are iconic hockey names: Jaromir Jagr and Teemu’s Finnish countryman Jarri Kurri. His 1,300 points have Selanne at No. 32 all time, behind Gilbert Perreault’s 1,326.

“It’s a big number, obviously,” Selanne said. “It’s what happens when you play a long time, and play with great players and enjoy the game.”

Nobody enjoys it more, with more class or humility. When he reached goal No. 600 last spring, Selanne would only come out for a curtain call at the insistence of his teammates, especially Jason Blake. 

“I felt embarrassed, stealing the show or something,” Selanne said.

How long has Selanne been around the NHL, “stealing the show?” Well, that “old guy” behind the Ducks’ bench, head coach Randy Carlyle, was Selanne’s teammate on the 1992-93 Winnipeg Jets, when Selanne set rookie scoring records that may never be broken: 76 goals and 132 points. 

Eighteen years later, Selanne remains a point-a-game player, still lethal around the crease, still one of the quickest and smoothest skaters in the game.

Ottawa Citizen

Organizations: Ottawa Senators, NHL, Colorado Avalanche Hockey Hall of Fame Winnipeg Jets

Geographic location: California, OTTAWA, Anaheim US Canada Finland

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