At least the 1997-98 season won't go down as a complete waste for the Mighty Ducks.
Now they can point with pride to their only accomplishment of the season: signing the only player who accomplished anything this season, Teemu Selanne, to a two-year extension that will keep him in Anaheim through 2001-2002.
Finally, the Ducks did something right. They showed that they learned from their mistakes with Paul Kariya. With the memory of Kariya's 32-game holdout fresh in their minds, they decided to save themselves the same agony and take care of Selanne right now.
And in the long run they'll probably save themselves money. By 2002, Selanne will be only 31, still capable of putting up 50-goal seasons, and his salary of $8.5 million will seem like a bargain.
So what does that make the $3.4 million he's earning this season? One of the best values in sports. He is the top goal-scorer in the NHL, the most valuable player of the All-Star game and an all-around good guy.
Some players would point all of that out themselves and demand a new contract. Not Selanne. He never griped about his salary and never tried to force management's hand.
You'd like to think it could always work this way, that players just go out and do their jobs, and management takes the initiative to reward their efforts.
"I told myself I'm not going to go and ask the Ducks to do anything," Selanne said. "That's why I'm so happy that they came to me right after Paul signed. They said they wanted to extend my contract too, but first they wanted to breathe and relax a little. I was hoping they were going to do something to keep me happy and make me think they really appreciate what I'm doing here."
How's this for appreciation: a package worth $19.5 million for the two-year extension. That's a lot of cheddar. But I ain't mad at ya, Teemu.
Some people are simply worth it. Even at $33 million a year, Michael Jordan is underpaid. Whatever an exciting player and hard worker like Selanne wants, he should get.
In this case Selanne probably shortchanged himself down the road. He can deal with it. He realizes that you can't have it both ways, long-term security and updated market value.
"I like security," Selanne said. "I've always liked it.
"I was thinking, if the only problem that I have is that I'm underpaid, things have to be pretty good."
Now Selanne won't have to play for a new contract until 2001-2002.
"For some players, playing under that kind of a pressure, that 'I have to play well because my contract is up after the season and I'm really going to want to have every dime I can get,' is good for somebody, but it's not good for me," Selanne said. "I don't want to play hockey and think about those things. When I go out there on the ice, I want everything [settled]--my family, things are good, my contract is good. There's nothing in my mind that's bothering me."
Kariya has put himself in the opposite, do-or-die situation by signing a two-year contract. Kariya's holdout and the season-ending concussion he suffered Feb. 1 essentially made this year a wash, so he'll have one year to prove that Gary Suter didn't knock the skills out of him.
Hopefully, knowing Selanne will be around should make it easier for Kariya to come back.
"I really think that we like to play so much together, and we like to build success together," Selanne said. "I think it makes Paul feel good too. He said that it's great that we can play lots of years together."
Kariya definitely will be welcome if he wants to come back. We know how long Selanne will be here. The lingering question Thursday was how much longer will General Manager Jack Ferreira be around?
Selanne put in a good word for Ferreira, calling him "a great hockey guy" and saying, "He's done so many good things here."
(Then again, wouldn't you have a lot of nice things to say about a man who just gave you $19.5 million?)
Selanne also praised Coach Pierre Page. He saved his criticism for the players.
"We have a lot of young players who want to play well, and those guys have to pick it up even more than the veterans, and that's what we haven't done," Selanne said.
As a result, it has been a dismal season around the Pond. At least until Thursday. Why do the Ducks always spring these major signings during their bleakest moments? They completed a deal with Kariya the day before ex-coach Ron Wilson was scheduled to arrive with the Washington Capitals. The Selanne deal was announced just after the start of the baseball season, and the prospect of the NHL playoffs starting without them threatened to wipe the Ducks off the sports pages. These coincidences are starting to get awfully coincidental.
So the Ducks get their good-news stories, Selanne gets his money--although he's one of the few athletes you can believe when they say it's not about the loot.
"Sometimes I'm a little bit embarrassed to talk about money," he said.
His one indulgence is his sizable car collection. His most recent addition is a Dodge Viper, complete with racing stripe down the middle. He dreams of owning a Ferrari 250, and those dreams probably came a little closer to reality Thursday. But when asked how many cars he owns, he got a sheepish look on his face and cast his eyes at the ground. He was almost afraid to admit it.
"Twenty-five," he said.
It's a safer bet to assume he'll be driving a Ferrari long after he's working for Ferreira, but Selanne has more immediate spending plans.
"First," he said, "I have to build a bigger garage."
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Top Duck Salaries
Player: 1997-98 Salary
Paul Kariya: $5,500,000
Teemu Selanne: $3,400,000
Guy Hebert: $2,400,000
Tomas Sandstrom: $1,400,000
Travis Green: $1,350,000
Scott Young: $1,050,000
David Karpa: $800,000
Ruslan Salei: $750,000
Mike Crowley: $650,000
Espen Knutsen: $600,000