Can Ducks reel in Paul Kariya with Selanne?

Overshadowed in the hue and cry over the quashing of the Ilya Kovalchuk contract late Monday was the announcement that future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne was returning to the Anaheim Ducks for one more kick at the can.

On a day that was bad news for New Jersey fans and the Devils and the NHLPA, this was good news for the Ducks and for hockey in general.

The game can always use a little more Teemu Selanne.

On a conference call from his home in Finland, Selanne joked with local reporters about their offseasons and how his seemed to include a bigger raise (he signed a one-year deal worth $3.25 million plus bonuses) but he also talked earnestly about the difficulty in deciding whether to come back.

The view from the outside may be somewhat distorted when it comes to players making these kinds of decisions.

What's the big deal? Do a little jogging in the summer, take a few saunas and start collecting those checks with all the zeroes. Who wouldn't want some of that action?

Not surprisingly the reality is a little less black and white for guys like Selanne and indeed for his good friend Paul Kariya, whom Selanne is lobbying to rejoin him in Anaheim.

Elite players always make the game look easy. It is their gift to fans.
Selanne is such a player.

He's scored 606 NHL goals and collected 1,260 points, more than a point a game, during his career. He won a Cup in Anaheim in 2007 and played in four Olympics for his beloved Finland.

Last year he scored 27 times in 54 games, and in the words of GM Bob Murray, he can still fly. But Selanne also suffered two serious injuries last season and many around him believed that last season would be his last.

It takes a lot to play the game the way Selanne does. Creativity is not just muscle memory but also a craft that has to be honed, maintained. To play as Selanne does takes quickness and mental toughness. It wasn't until late in this offseason that Selanne decided that he was willing to commit what it takes to play the way he does.
In short, it's hard to play as well as Selanne plays, but it's harder to walk away from it.

"I think it's a good sign when you still enjoy the game and can compete with the young guys. It's hard to retire, especially when you still enjoy it. It would be easier to do it if you think you can't play at the same level and you don't enjoy it as much," said Selanne, who recently turned 40.

"But if you do both, that's the reason I'm still playing."

Which brings us to Selanne's old running mate, Kariya.

The Selanne signing has intensified speculation that the skilled Kariya, an unrestricted free agent, will join Selanne in Anaheim for a reunion tour.

The two were part of the bedrock of NHL hockey in Anaheim and the faces of the franchise for the better part of a decade from the mid-1990s on.

Fans may still be angry with Kariya for bolting the team to sign with Colorado after Anaheim didn't make Kariya a qualifying contract offer following the 2003 season. The Ducks believed they had an agreement on a new contract with Kariya but instead he and Selanne went to Colorado in the hopes of winning a Cup.

It didn't happen and Selanne returned to the Ducks after the lockout while Kariya spent time in Nashville and St. Louis.

The challenge for Murray is to separate what may have been from what might be.

It's a challenge he says will be easy to meet.

"I could give two cents for what's gone on in the past," Murray said.

If Murray thinks Kariya is a fit hockey-wise and can work a deal that makes financial sense, "then we will move forward."

He pointed out that everyone thought Selanne and countryman Saku Koivu, signed last offseason, would find instant chemistry.

"Well, they didn't," Murray said.

"The best-laid plans sometimes just don't work," he said.

Again, the view from the outside appears simpler.

Kariya, Selanne, why not?

Yet Kariya remains in the same place Selanne was in deciding whether he even wants to play.

The 35-year-old Kariya, who had 18 goals in 75 games for the Blues last season, is working out as though he will return to the NHL but he and veteran agent Don Baizley have not gone knocking on doors looking for work.

In the next few weeks Kariya will determine which door he will pass through; the one Selanne passed through Monday that leads to another NHL season and a chance to prove that those rare skills have not eroded, that he can still play with the best; or the door that all great players choose at some point, the one that leads away from the game.

Here's hoping whether it's a return to Anaheim or somewhere else, Kariya's choice leads him back to an NHL rink.