The NHL regular season came to an end on Sunday night, and while there is a break in the schedule as some teams prepare for the playoffs and others for the golf course, there is no better time to look back at some of the recent events. The league is losing some legendary players to retirement this year, and at the twilight of their careers, they are honored not only by the fans and their teammates, but by the opponents they faced off against for many, many years. Whether it was in Edmonton or Anaheim, the end of the regular season showed that after the buzzer sounds, the NHL remains a community in the end.
In Edmonton, fans packed the arena Saturday night to send off a long-time fan favorite. Ryan Smyth and his Edmonton teammates have not had the season they wanted, finishing near the bottom of the standings for the fourth year in a row. Oiler fans, however, still wanted to show their appreciation for a veteran of the team of 15 years. From the pre-game skate to the final “3 Stars” announcement, and all throughout the night, the crowd roared whenever Smyth hit the ice. Edmonton would send Smyth off a winner, defeating the Vancouver Canucks, 5-2. The biggest sign of respect for Smyth came after the “3 Stars” announcement, when the players from the Canucks returned to the ice to shake hands with Smyth and congratulate him on a long career.
The next day, the Anaheim Ducks held a similar ceremony for the legendary Teemu Selanne. Though the Ducks will make the playoffs and have at least two more home games this year, Sunday marked the final regular season home game for the “Finnish Flash”. The Ducks beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in overtime, in a game between two of the Western Conference’s best, but it was what happened after the game that will stick in the minds of fans. Selanne was honored with all three stars after the game, but he decided to share the spotlight with someone else. Avalanche goaltender J.S. Giguere was also playing in his final NHL game after a successful 17-year career, which included a nine-year stint in Anaheim. After taking a lap around the ice in front of a raucous home crowd, Selanne grabbed Giguere and took another lap hand-in-hand with the goaltender.
“When I saw him, I said, ‘Well this is the time,’” Selanne said. “Obviously we have had a great journey together and we’re good friends. It was an honor to share this night for him too.”
The crowd recognized the gesture for what it was and once again gave a standing ovation to their former goaltender.
The weekend was not the first instance of the NHL coming together as a community and it will likely not be the last. When long-time Vancouver Canuck Trevor Linden announced his retirement from the game, his teammates lined up on the ice to shake his hand and wish him well. His opponents for the night, the Calgary Flames, followed suit, led by their captain Jarome Iginla. When the league loses a legend, the standings seem less important, at least for that night. Likewise, when famed enforcer Derek Boogaard was found dead of an apparent accidental drug overdose, the league took the loss hard. The impact of his death not only affected his current team, the New York Rangers, but every team in the league sent a message of grief and compassion to Boogaard’s family, with many players adding their own personal note as well.
The end of the regular season means a lot of things to a lot of teams. For those that miss the playoffs, it could mean anything from a minor roster tweak to a full-blown rebuild. For the teams that make the playoffs, it means that their road to every player’s ultimate goal – the Stanley Cup – begins soon. But in the midst of all the discussion about playoff positioning and draft analysis, the league showed another side this weekend. The NHL showed itself as a community of brothers, one that can put aside rivalries and fighting, and come together to honor those who deserve it.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner