Selanne would be a knuckleballer in MLB

January 22, 2013, 5:04 PM

The razzing reigning down on poor Dave couldn’t have been louder.

It was in the early rounds of a friendly NHL fantasy draft, and Dave had already selected three forwards aged 36 or older: Teemu Selanne, Martin St. Louis, and Patrik Elias.

It was suggested snidely that Dave should take Jaromir Jagr next.

“Gary Roberts” is still available, one poolie tipped.

“You should name your team ‘Old Balls,’ ” another fake basement GM proposed.

Yet after the dust settled following the NHL’s opening weekend, Dave’s geezers had earned him a healthy lead atop his fantasy league.

We may be only a couple of games deep into this abbreviated season, but experience is already paying dividends for the NHL players with the most of it.

The most obvious case is the elder statesman Selanne. The 42-year-old is coming off four straight 26-plus-goal seasons and a will-he-or-won’t-he decision to re-up for another tour with the Anaheim Ducks.

Selanne laid dormant during the lockout, but bust into 2013 with a four-point performance against the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Vancouver Cancuks, on Saturday night.

Admittedly flabbergasted, Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau had high praise for his veteran forward on Monday.

“He’s the greatest athlete in the world for his age,” Boudreau told reporters. “I defy people to tell me another sport somebody at his age is playing at the level he’s at equated to the sport they’re in. If he’s a pitcher, he might be a relief pitcher or a knuckleball pitcher like the one the (Toronto Blue) Jays got. But (R.A. Dickey) is not 42; he’s 39 (38, in fact). In football, he’d be a kicker. In tennis, they can’t play that long. In soccer, I don’t know of anybody in Europe playing at that age.

“I’m not trying to be bragging about my player, but if you look at a player of his age, it’s an amazing, amazing feat to be playing at the level he’s playing at.”

For his part, Selanne says there’s no secret fountain of youth that only he has the coordinates. He aw-shucks away the age question, saying that he still loves the game and is lucky to be “pretty healthy” is his NHL dotage. He gives a stick tap to his teammates. He’s just lucky, that’s all.

“I enjoy hockey still,” he told reporters. “That’s the most important thing.”

Coach Boudreau talks Selanne:

Selanne isn’t the future first-ballot Hall of Famer treating a whole other generation of hockey fans to highlights.

Jaromir Jagr — another year-by-year contract guy — also had a four-point 2013 debut, with the Dallas Stars. The Czech powerhouse will turn 41 next month, around the same time he joins the NHL’s 1,000-assist club. He could top 1,700 points this season.

Imagine if Jagr hadn’t spent parts of four seasons in the Czech professional league (163 points) and four professional campaigns in the Russian Superleague/KHL (184 points). His NHL totals would be even more ridiculous.

Jagr’s four-point debut:

Perhaps the most surprising old-guy performance this January is Alexei Kovalev, who tried out for and made the Florida Panthers team after leaving the NHL two years ago.

Kovalev, who turns 40 in February, played only 22 games in the KHL last season. He scored a single goal for Atlant Moscow Oblast.

The veteran scored a goal and added a pair of assists in his NHL comeback game on the weekend.

“I still enjoy being on the ice,” Kovalev told reporters Monday in Ottawa. He says he’s still one of the first on the ice and one of the last off, and he’s still driven by the feeling of winning.

“I have nothing to prove,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s just something I love to do.”

Alexei Kovalev: I’m just happy to be on the ice”

It isn’t just the well-conditioned 40-plusers who are off to a hot start. Granted it’s early in the season, but a handful of guys knocking on 40s door have shown zero signs of regression.

And a short season could be the perfect opportunity for veterans to shine. Fewer games means fewer opportunities to strain a groin, and most of these players know what to expect, having played through the 48-gamer of 1994-95.

Half of the NHL’s top-10 scorers are 34 or older; four of those five are at least 37.

Thirty-seven-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning staple St. Louis hasn’t scored fewer than 25 goals in a decade. He has three goals and two assists in his first two games.

The Ducks’ other ageless wonder, 38-year-old centre Saku Koivu, has five points and a plus-5 rating through two contests.

Thirty-six-year-old Patrik Elias, who has consistently improved upon his goal and assist totals the deeper he gets into his 30s, notched a point in the Devils only game this year, another win for 40-year-old teammate Martin Brodeur.

And the Stars’ Ray Whitney, 40, is already building upon his out-of-nowhere 2011-12 resurgence in Phoenix, when he experienced a 20-point year-over-year leap in production. He has two points through his first two games.

Due to our apparent — and so far misplaced — age bias, a couple of those guys are still languishing on the hockey pool waiver wire. Surely Dave has them flagged, though.

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