This is Anaheim Calling to the Hockey World. Teemu Selanne is arguably the greatest Duck of all time. Depending upon to whom you speak, it isn't really an argument. Which begs the question, why would he write a book where he degrades the work of coach Bruce Boudreau who has guided the Ducks to back-to-back Pacific Division titles? If you want a recap of some of the things that were said, you can check the original L.A Times article, or Puck Daddy's decent rundown as well as the standard accompaniment of thoughts about how Selanne's inability to cope with his deteriorating skills is the true manifestation of these comments. You can also find some of the responses made by members of the organization in the comment section of a recent AC post on Devante Smith Pelley's new contract.
I'm not here to rehash everything that's been said. By now, we've all had a chance to absorb and process the first exchange, as it were. Although, "Teemu being Teemu" is probably the least helpful phrase Bob Murray could have ever uttered. To me, the I'm more concerned with three different phenomena: If Selanne's performance was as bad as folks around here seem to think, if Selanne has a beef with Boudreau as a coach, and the dynamic of fans siding with organizations.
First, Teemu Selanne didn't necessarily have a bad year. According to behindthenet.ca, Selanne's 2.7 relative corsi was 5th on the Ducks last year. He was also a positive corsi player overall. So even if he was getting easier minutes, he was being productive with those minutes and mostly driving play forward. The key thing to look at for Selanne is actually SH%. Last season Selanne's 7.98 on ice SH% was the second worst he's posted since behindthenet started tracking the number. The even strenght numbers are a little disturbing, but the biggest sign that Selanne was probably just unlucky last year is the PP SH%, which was an abysmal 5.88%. That's almost five percentage points below his next lowest number. Selanne wasn't as good as Selanne, but he was definitely still a beneficial player for the Ducks whose biggest decrease in production was probably due to some bad puck luck on the power play. As for centers, Teemu probably has a point. Saku Koivu was deteriorating even faster than Selanne and the Ducks never really found a replacement.
As for Boudreau, A glance at the top linemates page from behindthenet probably reveals the evidence of Selanne's complaint. The only forwards that whose top linemates feature two or more forwards are the Koivu, Cogs, Winnik combo that was eventually broken up, and the Twins who spent almost 2/3 of a season with Dustin Penner. We all know Bruce likes to shuffle the deck. There's nothing wrong with that. I've often wondered if part of the reason he's able to keep ahead of percentages in the regular season is by moving players before they slump. Still, it's hard to generate consistency with a lot of moving parts.
There were goaltending questions in the playoffs this year, and Babcock looked to be one step ahead of him during the playoffs last year. Individual decisions are easy to second guess, and BB's decisions get hung around his neck no matter who he consults. The most damning evidence against Boudreau is that despite coaching several division champions, the man has never coached in a conference final.
Look, is BB a horrible coach? no. Is he going to be able to coach this team to a Cup? Maybe. Does Selanne have a gripe? Of course. He's a legend who despite not playing at HIS best wasn't necessarily playing poorly, but still managed to see his role dwindle down, even after continuing to play well after the Olympics.
The details of Selanne's play versus Bruce's coaching are really just peripheral issues. The real concern is how a player of Selanne's caliber speaking up against the organization affects his legacy. The answer is that it will only have a negative impact. Our sports culture demands athletes be silent promoters of the organization by giving everything they have on the ice, or field. Moreover, sporting institutions tend to be consistent, while athletes are transient. Our favorite players get traded, leave via free agency, or retire. When the athletes go, the organization stays. In fact, it is that transience that forces loyalty to the organization and gratification for the consumers who are too emotionally invested to give up their ties.
Teams are not just teams, they are cultural institutions. Fans will always defend them even to the detriment of players. One need look no further than the lockouts where fans demand that players embrace the "privilege" of doing their jobs, and cave to owner demands. Selanne's comments will be treated with much the same fervor through most of the fan base. The Internet has created an era of increased insight, that we also don't want to see. We want to know more about the process, but we don't want to hear about great players having conflicts with coaches, or even completely disagreeing with how those coaches do their jobs. We want to hear insight that reaffirms our faith in the institutions. Fans will clamor for more information and then condemn the news they receive.
Selanne will be condemned for his comments. He will be condemned for exalting himself above the sanctity of the team, the institution. We often forget that the nature of communication is one of individual perspective and that no two perspectives will ever be the same. Selanne EARNED the right to say what he wants. He served loyally and quietly for years. He's allowed to have a perspective in the end.
It shouldn't change his position in the rafters. It shouldn't change Murray's approach to running this team. However, it should change the way fans see sports organizations, not just the Ducks. It is unfair to demand loyalty from athletes, only to turn around and have the organization and fan base offer none in return. Teemu's comments are an insight into Boudreau's coaching style, and we would be unwise to not pursue the truth in them. That's not to say they are 100% accurate. Rather, Teemu enjoys the ability to speak with the most honesty right now. Even if he retracts or clarifies his statements. They came from his interactions with this coach, and there is some accuracy in them, even if the comments are harsher than intended.
No matter how this situation plays out I will be at the Ponda Center in January when the number eight will no longer be in reach of the common player Ducks player. The legend will continue and should remain untainted.