Q&A: Teemu Selanne on his new book, life as a hockey dad

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Teemu Selanne has kept busy since retiring from the NHL in 2014 following a 21-season career. The Finnish Flash still regularly plays golf and tennis and tends to his two restaurants in Orange County. Lately, he’s been busy promoting his book, “My Life,” which released an updated English version in October.

Selanne and author Ari Mennander started writing the book in the early 2000s, and while the Hall of Fame forward continued his commitment to playing on a mostly year-by-year basis, he didn’t want the project to be finished until his playing days were over. The Finnish version came out in 2014 and the English version was updated with more stories about his life and career.

Recalling his days growing up in Espoo, Finland and representing his country at the international level, and then having a very successful NHL career helped Selanne remember some memories that had faded from his mind.

“That was the best part of it, that you could almost live through those things again,” Selanne told NBC Sports this week. “Good things and bad things and you get those flashbacks. Even your body’s [reacting.] You got those goosebumps sometimes when you talk about something great. It was a pretty cool process; a lot of work, though, but I think it was worth it.”

We spoke with Selanne about his new book, his magnificent rookie season in Winnipeg, life as a hockey dad, and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: Who gave you the ‘Teddy Flash’ nickname when you were rally racing?

SELANNE: “Early ‘90s, my best friend was driving rally cars and I went first just watching him when he practiced and then he let me drive. Then I got really itchy to start racing myself, too. Obviously, I couldn’t [race]. You’re not supposed to do anything dangerous, so we decided to come up with a name they couldn’t recognize. But it didn’t last very long. After the first race everybody knew it was me. ‘Teddy Flash’ comes from ‘Finnish Flash.’ I think it was a good idea, it just didn’t work very well.”

PHT: Players who were represented by him and general managers who dealt with him have had nothing but great things to say about the late Don Baizley. What was it like to be represented by him?

SELANNE: “I was so lucky that I had Don as my agent. He was way more than an agent, he was like a father figure as well. He lived in Winnipeg and had a lot of Finnish and Swedish players as clients. He knew the background. Such a classy guy. Even GMs, they all respected him so much. He did everything in a fair way. He always tried to make sure when he made a deal that both sides were happy. He cared so much.”

PHT: Going back to your rookie season in 1992-93… With all the attention around your arrival in Winnipeg, what helped you keep focus that season to put up those numbers on such a regular basis? After a while everyone expected you to score every night.

SELANNE: “First of all, I was lucky when I went there the table was set up for me. I got to play with the best players right away. Our team was not one of the best teams in the league so it was very easy to break in and get the big role right away. The old saying is you’re exactly as good as your coach wants you to be. They gave me a green light to be a superstar right away. I was so hungry, too, to show myself and prove to everybody that I can play well and have this kind of success. Of course, not 76 goals like that, but playing a great season. 

“The first season, guys like Phil Housley and Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhamnov, those guys made my game so much easier. It was like a snowball going down the hill with the confidence. I just wanted more and more and more. What a year that was.”

PHT: Jarmo Kekalainen was a teammate of yours on the national team, but was also a big help during your move to North America. How did he help you get comfortable?

SELANNE: “He was my teammate and wanted to make sure that when I [got] there my language, especially my hockey language, that I’m not going to have any problems. We did a little language session for four days. He gave me a bunch of papers with examples of how [media] interviews go and how to be humble. I used that same format for the first three years. It worked great.”

PHT: You were a little older when you arrived in the NHL. Nowadays it’s not rare to see 18 years old jump right in, like Kaapo Kakko and Patrik Laine. Do you think you could have handled life as an NHLer, far away from home, when you were 18?

SELANNE: “Not a chance. The time has changed. I came to [training] when I was 18 and I wasn’t ready to come here. The way the young guys get prepared now, they’re ready as an 18-year-old. It’s so impressive. Maybe on the ice I could have some success, but mentally and as a man, there’s no way. I’m still worried about the young guys, like when things go well, they don’t really need help. But when stuff goes a little bit south and you start losing the confidence, how ready are those guys really at 18? … I would never feel comfortable to come over as an 18-year-old.”

PHT: The game is so fast now, even five years after you retired. How do you think a 22-year-old Teemu would do in the NHL in 2019-20?

SELANNE: “I would do great, no question. The thing is, I think that today’s hockey is made for a guy like myself. It’s all about speed and skill. When I came to the league I was way faster than 95% of the players — the big, strong, slow defensemen. But there was so much holding and grabbing and hooking, it made the job so much tougher. I know that I would enjoy today’s hockey more than back then.”

PHT: Two of your sons are still playing hockey (Leevi with the NA3HL Texas Jr. Brahamas and Eetu with Curry College). How have you found life as a hockey dad? Are you more nervous before one of their games than you were for your own?

SELANNE: “Not really. I just watch and laugh. Going through everything again with my sons, I realize how hard it is [today]. I thought it was way easier because of my road, my journey was so smooth. But now I realize how much politics [are at play] and how much it takes and to have the coaching early. … You need that help. You need those opportunities to show what you can do. As a player, you need that confidence from a coach and to feel that I’m going to have success. Without that, I don’t care who you are, you can’t have success.”

PHT:  How often do you give them feedback or do you sit back and allow them to learn from mistakes?

SELANNE: “Well, I tried to give feedback… my three boys, two of them, they were listening very carefully. But my one doesn’t believe anything I say. I always try to remind him, ‘Hey, I know how this game works’ and he still says ‘Ah, that’s not true.’ Well, whatever. 

“That’s what my dad did. We always talked about hockey and he was very smart. When I was playing bad, he always found something very positive about my game. And when I thought I was playing unbelievable he would start finding something I could do better and I always thought he was crazy. After a while, when I got older, I realized how smart that was. When I thought I was a little high, he brought me back to my feet, and when I was a little down he’d just lift me up.”

PHT: Finally, do you want to get back into hockey in a full-time capacity?

SELANNE: “It’s funny, I’ve been waiting to see if I got any itch about going back, but so far no. It’s a big commitment. You can’t go there at 50 or 60 or 70%. You almost need the same passion like you had as a hockey player. Right now, I feel no, but you never know.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.