Teemu Selanne left the Mighty Ducks after a late-season trade four years ago, but he kept a house in south Orange County, along with his memories of a productive run as one of the most popular players in Duck history.
He returned Monday.
Selanne signed a one-year, $1-million deal to don the uniform he wore for five-plus seasons between 1996 and 2001, rejoining a team on which he ranks second in scoring to former teammate Paul Kariya.
The 35-year-old forward has had the Ducks in his sights since being allowed to walk away as an unrestricted free agent after one subpar season with the Colorado Avalanche.
"I'm very excited to be back in Anaheim," Selanne said in a conference call from his off-season home in his native Finland. "I have such great memories from there.
"You never know in this business.... I had a feeling I was going to come back."
That nearly occurred two years ago, when Kariya lobbied Duck management to bring back his good friend and linemate. Former general manager Bryan Murray chose not to give Kariya a $10-million qualifying offer, though, hoping to sign him to a lower salary and perhaps add Selanne as well.
Instead, the two signed with Colorado for below-market contracts, figuring on an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. The move didn't pan out, though. Both struggled with injuries, and the Avalanche was ousted by San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals.
In his case, Selanne said, pain in his left knee took away his explosiveness on the ice. In 2003-04, he had career lows of 16 goals and 16 assists in 78 games with the Avalanche.
"The last couple of years have been really tough, when every time you step on the ice, your knee is hurting," he said. "Obviously, the fun of the game is going to disappear when you can't do your normal things. When I can't use my speed, I'm useless."
Selanne briefly considered retirement but postponed those thoughts after seeing how well the knee responded after surgery last summer.
Don Baizley, Selanne's agent, said there were teams with better offers but that the Ducks were "clearly [Selanne's] first choice."
"He wanted to be sure he was healthy and that he was motivated to play another season," Baizley said. "He certainly didn't want to end his career by finishing on that note, the way his season went in Colorado."
The Ducks hope that Selanne can be more like the player who has racked up 452 goals in 12 seasons, 225 of them with the Ducks. Only Jaromir Jagr, with 478, has more goals over that time.
Acquired from Winnipeg for Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky in perhaps the biggest trade in team history, Selanne topped 50 goals twice and helped turn a franchise worn thin on the novelty aspect into a playoff team.
General Manager Brian Burke said he envisioned Selanne playing on one of the top two lines. The right wing also figures to play prominently on the power play and could make an instant difference with the removal of the red line and an anticipated crackdown on obstruction by officials.
Burke also said he was taking Selanne at his word that his knee is better, although Selanne will have to pass a physical.
"We did the one-year deal because it's not clear from our perspective what Teemu can deliver at this point," Burke said. "I think he can play a number of years after this year.
"I made very clear to his agent that we're certainly not looking at this as a one-year thing. But it was all we were prepared to do at this point."
The deal also pushes the Ducks right up against the $39-million salary cap, making it likely that a player will be moved before training camp opens next month. Burke reiterated that he would like room under the cap to get a player during the season.
It could mean that right wing Petr Sykora, who plays the same position as Selanne, will be made available. Sykora is to make $3.1 million on the last year of a three-year contract.
"I would never speculate on any player on my team," said Burke about the salary-cap issue. "Certainly we're at a point where that's a very distinct possibility that one or more than one player could be moved off the team to create some room."
Selanne said he was looking forward to playing in an attacking offensive style favored by Burke and first-year Coach Randy Carlyle, whom Selanne played with during his first season in Winnipeg, where he won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
Carlyle said he would offer his onetime teammate a chance to regain his success.
"He didn't have the success he was hoping for in Colorado, for whatever reason," Carlyle said. "We think we can provide him with an opportunity to help our hockey club. A happy and a healthy Teemu Selanne is a proven commodity to score goals in this league."
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Teemu Selanne was traded by the Mighty Ducks to San Jose on March 5, 2001, for left wing Jeff Friesen, goalie Steve Shields and other consider- ations. His career numbers:
*--* Season Team G A Pts +/- 92-93 Winnipeg 76 56 132 8 93-94 Winnipeg 25 29 54 -23 94-95 Winnipeg 22 26 48 1 95-96 Winnipeg 24 48 72 3 DUCKS 16 20 36 2 Total 40 68 108 5 96-97 DUCKS 51 58 109 28 97-98 DUCKS 52 34 86 12 98-99 DUCKS 47 60 107 18 99-00 DUCKS 33 52 85 6 00-01 San Jose 7 6 13 1 DUCKS 26 33 59 -8 Total 33 39 72 -7 01-02 San Jose 29 25 54 -11 02-03 San Jose 28 36 64 -6 03-04 Colorado 16 16 32 2 G A PTS +/- Total 452 499 951 33