Winnipeg is still special to Teemu Selanne
Imagine life without Teemu Selanne ever playing for the Winnipeg Jets, taking those 76 goals and 132 points and scoring them in his rookie season for another Canadian team.
It is certainly worth recounting what almost didn’t happen now that the Ducks’ Selanne is about to settle into the warm (well, metaphorically speaking) Manitoba civic embrace Saturday. The adopted son is returning for an eagerly awaited homecoming when the Ducks play the Jets.
Selanne’s rookie season was with the Jets in 1992-93, and if Winnipeg had not stepped up financially, he would have been playing right wing for the Calgary Flames. The Flames first tried to trade for him and then came up with a $2.7-million offer sheet for Selanne, a sizable number in those days. The Jets swallowed hard and matched.
“There was some controversy around it all because here was this guy coming from Europe who was getting which was then a very big contract for an entry-level guy,” said Selanne’s longtime agent, Don Baizley, who lives in Winnipeg.
“I always thought he [Selanne] was motivated by the speculation that, geez, this guy wasn’t worth this money, that kind of stuff. Then he came in and got 76 goals.”
Talk about money for something.
Seventy-six goals and an unabashed joy in playing quickly erased the notion that $2.7 million was too much. Selanne would play for the Jets until financial considerations became an issue, again, for the franchise and he was traded to Anaheim on Feb. 7, 1996.
His magic scoring touch followed him to California and he would go on to score 50-plus goals in back-to-back seasons with the Ducks. He twice made the league’s All-Star first team, once with the Jets and once with the Ducks, and won the Stanley Cup in 2007 in his second stint with Anaheim. Even in his 19th season, the ageless Selanne is leading the Ducks in scoring. He has 646 career goals (14th all-time) and 1,370 points (23rd all-time).
The staying power of the relationship between Selanne and Winnipeg has been fascinating, surviving the trade and, later, the Jets’ move to Phoenix. With the NHL returning to Manitoba this season after the Atlanta Thrashers were sold and moved to Winnipeg, it represented a chance to tie up loose ends for Selanne, 41.
“When I got traded I didn’t really have a chance to say goodbye to the people and the city,” Selanne said this week on a conference call. “It was the next day I am gone. It’s pretty tough when you get traded. Everything is rushing and you have to be gone the next day. That’s why I’m really looking forward to going back there.”
That goes for his family and friends. His mother, wife and their four sons, and a number of friends from Finland will be on hand this weekend for the occasion. Selanne’s oldest son, Eemil, was born a few weeks after the trade from Winnipeg to Anaheim.
The interest in Selanne is so high that the Ducks will be holding a news conference in a hotel ballroom Saturday, not at the morning skate at the MTS Centre.
As for the game, the Jets plan to honor Selanne with a video tribute, to be unveiled during the first TV timeout.
Gentlemen, start your ovations.
“Winnipeg was really, really special,” Selanne said. “The people, there’s a reason why their plates on the cars have ‘Friendly Manitoba’ because it’s a really friendly city and unbelievable fans and it was just a great 4½ years there.”
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