Philadelphia, PA – One of the sadder things in professional sports is when a once-great player hangs on past his prime.
Even if that player himself is in denial about his diminishing skills, it's hard for fans not to notice how time eventually wears an athlete down.
These harsh truths have been lost on Teemu Selanne, who recently turned 42 years old, but made a wise decision in opting to return for a 20th NHL season in 2012-13.
Selanne has spent his entire post-lockout career with the Anaheim Ducks and has signed one-year deals heading into each of the past three seasons to remain with the club. The most recent contract, which was announced on Thursday, is worth $4.5 million, but it's unclear if it will be the last deal of the Finnish winger's Hall of Fame career.
Obviously, there will come a day when Selanne is unable to perform up to NHL standards, but that day doesn't seem imminent. After all, Selanne has posted 25 or more goals in each of the last four campaigns and compiled 455 of his 1,406 career NHL points over 462 games in the post-lockout era.
Selanne, who won his lone Stanley Cup title with Anaheim in the spring of 2007, is already the oldest player in NHL history to score 20 or more goals in a season. It would be pretty shocking if he doesn't add another year to that record in 2012-13.
Last season, Selanne, who is the Ducks' franchise leader in scoring, goals, assists, plus/minus, power play goals and game-winning goals, notched 26 goals and 66 points. He also played in all 82 games to become the oldest player in NHL history (41 years, 279 days at end of season) to play in every game of a season.
"I still feel I can play at a high level," Selanne said on Thursday. "As I always say, this is my happy place and I can't wait to get back on the ice in front of our great fans."
With his 663 career NHL goals, Selanne's Hall of Fame credentials are already rock solid, but why quit when your are still able to command a hefty salary for playing the game at a very high level?
For Ducks general manager Bob Murray, the most impressive thing that Selanne has done is that he's never lost his passion for playing the game.
"While I'm still amazed by his speed and skill level, it's Teemu's love for the game and his teammates that make him so special," Murray said.
Of course, another run at a Stanley Cup title would be nice, but Selanne also will have some impressive personal milestones within his reach in the upcoming season. He needs only 20 points to pass Bryan Trottier for sole possession of 15th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list and only five goals to tie Luc Robitaille for 10th place in the league annals.
Selanne will have to fight another active legend for positioning on the goals list, as Jaromir Jagr, who is 40, is only three goals behind Selanne heading into next season. Jagr is coming back for the 2012-13 campaign after signing a one-year, $4.55 million with the Dallas Stars earlier in the offseason.
If Selanne can duplicate his point total from last season, then he will also be able to reach 1,000 points with the Ducks' franchise. He'll enter 2012-13 with 937 points during his time in Anaheim.
Selanne coming back for next season makes sense not only for himself, but also for the Ducks. The "Finnish Flash" is obviously a fan favorite in Anaheim, even if his presence on the Ducks has helped the team make the playoffs only once over the previous three seasons.
Still, Anaheim's recent problems aren't a reflection on Selanne, but rather a symptom of the Ducks' dearth of depth on both sides of the ice. It's that lack of depth that eventually could cause the team to deal young power forward Bobby Ryan for the right package.
The Ducks won't be able to count on Selanne for ever, but by him going year- to-year on contracts, it's not like Anaheim is taking a big risk by continuing to sign him.
One of these summers, Selanne finally will announce that he's through with the game he so clearly loves. Hopefully, his latest year-long commitment to hockey goes well enough to get Selanne thinking about a 21st NHL season.