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Timeless talent

Grizzled vets Selanne and Yzerman still going strong

Posted: Monday April 3, 2006 12:12PM; Updated: Monday April 3, 2006 6:43PM
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Selanne (36 goals, 44 assists) is having his most prolfic season since 1999-2000.
Selanne (36 goals, 44 assists) is having his most prolfic season since 1999-2000.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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Two of the hottest players in the NHL right now are Teemu Selanne and Steve Yzerman. And, no, this is not 1996; it really is 2006. Yet two greats continue to impress and amaze, making time seemingly stand still.

Selanne, 35, continues his renaissance season with the Mighty Ducks after, as he put it, "getting his career back" following surgery last year to repair his badly damaged left knee. He has played with the flair of old all season, but since winning a silver medal with Team Finland at the Winter Olympic Games, his production -- 18 points in his last nine games -- has continued to soar. Not surprisingly, so too have the fortunes of the Ducks, as they now sit a mere four points behind Nashville in the Western Conference.

Yzerman, meanwhile, is in the midst of an offensive spurt that harkens back to the "Stevie Y" of seasons long gone by. Even Detroit head coach Mike Babcock teased that he saw Yzerman go fast recently, and Babcock will expect it all the time if Yzerman isn't careful. That's how it used to be for the Captain -- smooth, fast and difference-making. Time and numerous injuries have taken their toll, but Yzerman, 40, has carried on, driven by a force most of us can't fathom.

That determination -- the same resolve he used to turn himself into a superstar and leader -- had him enjoying himself while playing limited minutes in a controlled role on the NHL's top team. He endured a frustrating injury earlier in the season, returned and got his game to the point where he passed Mario Lemieux on the NHL's all-time scoring list last week. But one great passing another wasn't enough. Yzerman's historical feat came in the context of an eight-game point streak  -- a marvel in its own right. He now has 13 goals and 18 assists for the season.

What also makes the recent exploits of Selanne and Yzerman all the more amazing is the time of year. This is when games matter most and points are often tougher to come by. The Ducks, particularly, have needed Selanne's sizzle as they continue their surge to the postseason, and are proving that they are a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. Yzerman's Red Wings have been playoff-bound since October, but the Captain's contributions have helped create separation atop the NHL's overall standings in the race for the President's Trophy.

More pertinently, Yzerman is demonstrating that he still has the ability to lead on the ice. His run of points and placing eighth all-time in goal-scoring is enough of a late-season treat for hockey fans, but you get the sense that it means more to Yzerman. It's all about building toward the playoffs and proving that he deserves a larger defined role, based on the only thing that matters at this time of year: getting it done. He understands that minutes aren't meted out by proxy come postseason time, and Yzerman looks as if he has built his whole season around saving his best for when it means the most.

Come to think of it, both Selanne and Yzerman have lived up to that standard for an awfully long time. That they're both still doing it is special indeed.