There are players who are loved by fans in a certain city for all that they have done there. Wayne Gretzky is still held in high esteem by people in Edmonton. Mario Lemieux is loved in Pittsburgh. Steve Yzerman might be the most celebrated sports figure in Detroit. While he has played for four teams and is favored in Anaheim, there is no denying that Teemu Selanne is one of the most popular people to have ever been part of the Winnipeg sports scene, and may actually be bigger than Bobby Hull when it comes to how much the people of Winnipeg love the "Finnish Flash".
It's hard to imagine that Teemu Selanne could have been playing for the Calgary Flames had it not been for a shrewd business decision by Jets' management to match a $2.7 million offer sheet given to Selanne by the Flames. Selanne had yet to play one second of hockey in the NHL, and his entry level deal was already a large sum of money for the small market Jets.
"There was some controversy around it all because here was this guy coming from Europe who was getting which was then a very big contract for an entry-level guy," Winnipeg-based Don Baizley, Selanne's longtime agent, said to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times.
"I always thought he was motivated by the speculation that, geez, this guy wasn't worth this money, that kind of stuff. Then he came in and got 76 goals."
While the money considerations would handcuff the team in 1996, forcing Selanne's trade to Anaheim, there was no doubt that he was the most celebrated sports figure in Winnipeg history since Bobby Hull signed his cheque at Portage and Main. Selanne also was extremely generous with his time while he was here as a Jet, always signing one more autograph and always stopping for one more picture. Gestures like this have kept him as part of the Winnipeg sports lore for more than 15 years while he played in Anaheim, San Jose, and Denver.
For the game here last night, Selanne brought his family with him so that his kids could see what hockey in Winnipeg was like. What the Selanne clan witnessed was a city and a player making amends for his unwanted departure as Selanne was given a standing ovation when he appeared on the Jumbotron during warm-ups and cheered loudly every time he touched the puck during the game.
"My boys, they are growing up in California where hockey is not as big as here so that’s why this was very special for them to come here and realize the passion that these people have here. They are going to remember this for sure the rest of their lives," Selanne told Paul Waldie of The Globe and Mail.
Dad was also able to turn his celebration into a lesson for his kids. Selanne added, "I’ve tried to teach them when you treat people well they are going to treat you well also." A very good lesson exemplified by both people of Winnipeg and their dad.
Here is the tribute done by the new Jets in honour of Teemu Selanne, one of the most memorable Jets to have ever played the game.
As one final great moment, Teemu Selanne was named the third star of the game, and got his chance to have his moment on the ice all by himself in front of 15,000 of his biggest fans.
As the announcer stated, Teemu Selanne is a classy guy, and it's nice to see that he got a chance to return to bid adieu to the fans where the magic began in 1992.
Not many players get that opportunity, but I'm glad Selanne did. He is the epitome of a selfless, classy player. All the best, Mr. Selanne, as you continue to play the game at an exceptionally high level.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!