Like everything else, hockey is mostly about doom. Decay and death are inevitable, omnipresent, omnipotent -- and sometimes, hockey men transcend these with speed and power and grace and skill and will. And, sometimes, they embody them, and initiate us into the mysteries of limitation, decline, and lack.
In 2004, the Colorado Avalanche franchise was coming off a couple consecutive disappointments, and was mourning the loss of its iconic goaltender, so it was time to rebuild. Or reload. Or something. Anyway with furrowed brow did the Avs survey the available free agents, and with money did they entice a magnificent pair to the cosy environs of the Front Range: brilliant skaters by the names of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, 16 all-star games, 736 goals, a pile of awards between them. ESPN commissioned a documentary series on the team, drawn by the stars' charisma and the prospect of a world-historical kind of season.
Selanne had long been known as one of hockey's fastest skaters, with the hand and brain skills to match his unequalled feet. He came to the Avs with 436 goals in his 901 games, and zero evidence of decline, having played all 82 games each of the previous two seasons, scoring nearly 30 each year. Not quite the point-a-game man he had been in each of his first ten seasons, but he was, after all, 33: no longer a young kid, but still a powerful, productive skater with adorable tousled hair and a firm jaw line.
It was a disaster.
While he did manage to appear in 78 games, his speed and strength on his skates were obviously completely gone. A bad knee reduced him to fourth-line duty, and he proved unable to finish or distribute at a high level, notching a paltry 16 goals and the same number of assists. He'd once been impossibly swift, and the end of his career had, clearly, come equally swiftly.
The next season was taken from us all by powerful men who decided the existing economic order displeased, and so they did decree that in their stately pleasure domes would obtain a "salary" "cap" -- really a "salaries" cap -- such that each team would have the same maximum amount to spend on player payroll.
Thus it was that Selanne mounted a thoroughly hopeless comeback campaign, back with his old team for a mere one million dollars, a far cry from his 5-million-plus season in Colorado. The well-regarded Finn would, no doubt, take a bit of a victory lap, and everyone could enjoy watching him end his career in a familiar uniform. Any actual hockey performance would of course be impossible: the end had come, and all that was left was to face it with some dignity and class.
That was nine full seasons ago. Over those nine seasons -- or, to put it another way, over a second full career, for most players -- Teemu Selanne played another 572 games, and piled up another 232 goals, including two more 40-goal years, and won a championship. He has just retired, as close to a universally beloved figure as the game has known.
Hockey, like everything else, is shadowed by and susceptible to doom. But life often finds a way and rebirth is inextricable from death. Teemu Selanne has a posse.