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.

PHT Morning Skate: Makar’s incredible rookie season; Load management in NHL

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Capitals head coach Todd Reirden brought a few champions in to talk to his team about winning it all. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Why have the Devils’ bad players playing well and why are the good players playing bad? (All About the Jersey)

• How has Kevin Hayes looked in his first few games with the Flyers? (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• Rod Brind’Amour is already the best coach in Hurricanes franchise history. (Cardiac Cane)

• Only Brendan Shanahan will be able to fire Mike Babcock. (Leafs Nation)

Noel Acciari has been an incredible steal for the Florida Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

Cale Makar is having a rookie season for the ages. (The Hockey News)

• The wives and girlfriends of Canadiens players are learning how to play hockey. (Sportsnet)

• We’re starting to see load management between the pipes in the NHL. (ESPN)

• This broadcast duo have been calling Red Wings games for 25 years. (Detroit News)

• The Golden Knights need to make sure that they don’t let their recent struggles frustrate them. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: McDavid, Draisaitl stay red-hot; Lightning torch Rangers

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers
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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

There is a reason these two lead the NHL in points and a combined 11-point outing will certainly keep them there a bit longer. McDavid recorded his second hat trick in three games and his first career six-point outing. Draisaitl had five assists and extended his point streak to 11 games as the Oilers skated to a 6-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. If the Oilers feel that the rest of the lineup can provide enough support McDavid and Draisaitl can build on a dynamic partnership and help Edmonton return to the postseason.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

A trip to Sweden was the perfect opportunity for the Lightning to find their form and in their first game back in North America, they proved they still are an elite offensive team. Kucherov capped off an explosive stretch when Tampa Bay scored three times in a span of 61 seconds and added three assists. It was the second time this season Kucherov recorded four points.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

The Czech forward had two goals as the San Jose Sharks extended their winning streak to five with an important 5-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks. Hertl was the beneficiary of a suspect call when he pushed John Gibson’s pad over the goal line in the opening period. But on his second of the night, the 26-year-old wired a wrister to even the score in the second period. After a slow start, the Sharks are hoping to climb their way back into the playoff race.

Highlights of the Night

McDavid doing McDavid things

Video game dekes are normally reserved for an alternate reality but Justin Dowling of the Dallas Stars showed his slick hands with an impressive toe drag.

Before a one-timer is launched, there are times you just know the player is going to connect. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is one goal away from the 400-goal mark after this blistering slap shot.

Blooper of the Night

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins probably had a different plan for this celebration

Factoids

  • Connor McDavid became the fourth player in Oilers history to record two hat tricks in three games, joining Wayne Gretzy, Glen Anderson and Jari Kurri [NHL PR].
  • McDavid and Draisaitl are just the second Oilers teammates in the last 30 years to each record five points in a game [NHL PR]
  • The Hurricanes have not lost a game against the Sabres since March 22m 2016 and are one of five teams with an active win streak of 10+ games vs. one opponent [NHL PR]
  • Dougie Hamilton is the fastest defenseman in Hurricanes/Whalers franchise history to reach 20 points in a season (19 GP) [Sportsnet Stats]
  • The Lightning scored four goals in each of the first and second periods of a game for first time in franchise history [NHL PR]
  • Tampa Bay scored four goals in the first 6:42 of Thursday’s game. Only five teams have accomplished that feat faster in the last 25 years [NHL PR].

Scores

Lightning 9, Rangers 3

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Jets 4, Panthers 3

Wild 3, Coyotes 2

Oilers 6, Avalanche 2

Stars 4, Canucks 2

Sharks 5, Ducks 3

Kings 3, Red Wings 2

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Necas rewarding Hurricanes’ patience

Carolina Hurricanes forward Martin Necas
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Highly touted prospects are consistently called on to produce shortly after their draft year, sometimes hindering their growth as players.

Whether the club is competing for the Stanley Cup, looking to become a contender or facing a salary cap dilemma, young players on entry-level contracts have become a staple in the NHL.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, the patience they showed during Martin Necas’ development process has proven to be beneficial.

Necas has recorded 13 points through 19 games, including an assist on Dougie Hamilton’s game-winning goal Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. The 20-year-old forward darted into the offensive zone and could not complete a breakaway opportunity midway through overtime. However, instead of losing his composure, Necas stayed with the play, retrieved the puck and set up Hamilton to help Carolina secure a 5-4 victory.

Carolina selected Necas with the 12th pick in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft. Necas played one game in the NHL that season before returning to the Czech Republic. Last year, Necas had a seven-game stint with the Hurricanes, but the organization felt he needed more fine-tuning in the American Hockey League, where he helped the Charlotte Checkers capture the Calder Cup.

The pressure surrounding a first-round pick is omnipresent during the development process and only heightens when the prospect needs additional time outside the NHL. The situation is even more magnified when the big club is contending for a championship and contemplating a major trade deadline acquisition or a promotion from within.

But Carolina’s front office resisted the urge to disrupt Necas’ development and is reaping the rewards from that tough decision this season.

If Necas continues to produce, he will be in contention for a different Calder Trophy this season. While an individual award is an accomplishment, Carolina is hoping its patience will be rewarded as the team looks to build on its Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Maple Leafs GM gives interesting take on ‘polarizing’ players

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a three-game losing streak, and generally speaking, have seemed a bit underwhelming so far in starting 2019-20 with a 9-7-4 record (22 points, currently in second wild card).

Through 20 games, you’ll see players talk about getting “swagger” back, and you probably won’t be able to scroll Hockey Twitter without stumbling upon at least a few debates about the job Mike Babcock is doing.

With as passionate a fan base as the Maple Leafs have, you’ll see people really drilling down to parse even the depth aspects of the team. Maybe that explains why we got an interesting take from GM Kyle Dubas, who almost seemed to break “the fourth wall” when he acknowledged the many takes that defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie inspire.

Buffet of opinions

Dubas’ comments about Ceci are especially fascinating, as you can see from TSN’s Karen Shilton.

“Cody is an interesting one. I think it goes back to the war between data and subjective scouting [in that] he seems to be a very polarizing player,” Dubas said. “Even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage [as a top-pairing defenceman who averages 22:19 of ice time per game], it seems to be every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum on whether he’s good or not, which is mind-boggling to me. Every defenceman that plays that much and plays in that role is going to [make] mistakes. I think he’s been a good addition for us and has played above expectations from when we acquired him and we’re very happy with him.”

In particular, Dubas captures the tenure of some Hockey Twitter debates when he says “it seems like every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum.”

But it’s not that hard to see where many of Ceci’s critics are coming from.

When the Maple Leafs acquired Ceci, and it became clear that he’d actually stick around for at least a while, the hope (for many) was that he wouldn’t have the same role as he did in Ottawa, where some believe the Senators promoted him to a level of incompetence. What if Ceci was in an easier role, with fewer minutes and lesser opponents? Instead, his ice time has been virtually unchanged from last season, and defensive measures like his Hockey Viz heat maps (via Micah Blake McCurdy) look as bad as ever:

But, truly, Dubas isn’t totally off base when he says that there are certain underlying numbers where Ceci comes across at least a bit more respectably.

There’s the argument, advanced by people like Jonas Siegel of The Athletic (sub required), that it’s too early to judge Ceci.

Maybe it’s too late; perhaps there’s an “eye test vs. analytics” divide that won’t be broken easily. It could be that the biggest uproar would come if the Maple Leafs brought back Ceci after his expiring deal melts away.

(Opinion: they absolutely should not bring Ceci back.)

Tyson not knocking it out of the park

In the grand scheme of things, the Ceci situation is basically going as prescribed.

The bigger disappointment might be Tyson Barrie, even if you ignore Nazem Kadri‘s promising early results in Colorado. The book on Barrie is that he can be an explosive offensive performer, although there were red flags about him negating much of that prowess with shaky defense.

Those red flags carry over to those Hockey Viz charts, as there’s a lot of the bad sort of red when you consider Barrie’s defensive impact (and arguably not enough of the good red on offense to justify that bleeding).

Keeping it as simple as it gets, Barrie barely has more points (zero goals, five assists, thus five points) than Ceci (one goal, three assists for four points). Those numbers are underwhelming even if you viewed Barrie as something of a paper tiger with superficial scoring stats coming in.

Maybe it’s telling that Dubas’ comments are more milquetoast about Barrie, stating that “we just want him to continue to work and get comfortable here.”

***

Barrie, Ceci, and the Maple Leafs face a familiar foe on Friday in the Boston Bruins. In the Bruins’ own way, they want to get back on track too, as they’ve lost four in a row.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.