Ryan Getzlaf (15)

Leaving an Indelible Mark

A Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals. World Junior Gold. Over 1000 points and 1150 games. The captaincy of a team that has looked to him for leadership since 2010. Being picked 19th overall in the 2003 amateur draft. With these attributes, there’s no doubt Ryan Getzlaf is going to the Hockey Hall of Fame to get fitted for a blazer and ring someday in the not-too-distant future.

That day got a whole lot closer Tuesday, when the player people in the OC simply know as “The  Captain” announced his retirement from the league effective the end of the regular season. The Ducks, as everyone realizes, are not going to the playoffs, so Sunday the 24th against St. Louis, that’s the end.

Getzlaf acknowledged this in a heartfelt announcement of thanks to a crowd including his parents, media, and other Ducks personnel at a restaurant inside Honda Center on Tuesday.

After he made his speech, he asked for the chance to speak some more, and in that address, he thanked his family for his support, namely his parents and his brother, Chris, who himself had a remarkable career with three teams in the Canadian Football League, where he played for 13 years.  He won the CFL Grey Cup twice, the first time in the same year Ryan won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks. Chris is not rich like his brother, but his help, advice, and support were acknowledged by Getzlaf.

So why now, for Ryan’s exit? He said that the physical toll on the body, and the amount of work it takes to get ready for a season, were what made him decide to leave the NHL. He also mentioned that back years ago, he had thought this might happen at 25 of 26 years old. He’s now 36.

He’s had a voice of maturity for years, in fact. So many times, I’ve listened to him talk in the (pre-Covid) Ducks’ locker room scrums, and he always has a measured tone, confident and reassuring—it’s going to be alright, you end up feeling. But he’s also a jokester, always ready to poke fun at an obvious (or obviously stupid) question, never disrespectfully,  mind you, but in a way that shows that he’s real, and that he thinks you  are, too.

The hint of the physical toll being what would end his on-ice career was actually made by Getzlaf some weeks or months ago, before his latest bout  with a deep bone bruise on his foot that has kept him out of a handful of recent games. He mentioned to an interviewer that he would not be the last player from his draft year left in the NHL. Fans hoped it was not imminent. Now, it’s real.

Interestingly, some said after the Jay Beagle-Troy Terry situation which occurred last weekend that had Getzlaf been playing, the beat-down might not have happened. Such is Getzlaf’s presence on the ice—both as a physical force and due to his calming effect on excitable younger players.

I’d read it differently. If it’s true that the Ducks were clowning and showing up the Coyotes in front of their bench when they scored, that’s some crap that Getzlaf would have put a stop to, and it never would have gotten to the mess that it did. That’s not easy leadership to replace.

People are obviously  already asking who the next captain will be. Cam Fowler is the name being bandied about. He’s going to have to find his voice for that to be a success.

Last year at the trade deadline, speculation was rampant that Getzlaf would be going elsewhere, and he acknowledged two sleepless nights up talking to his spouse about the possibility of such, but he said, “It just didn’t feel right to go anywhere,” and no trade was made. This year, the talk was still there, but muted. Interesting to note that his partner in “the twins,” Corey Perry, who came to Anaheim the same year Getzlaf did, has thrived in a second burst of career life starting in Dallas, then moving on to Montreal, and now in Tampa Bay. Getzlaf, meanwhile, has thrived in just one place. Few players do that, especially nowadays, which is why his long list of contributions put him at the top of the franchise’s numbers in many categories.

If you’re wondering about the career, by the  way, Getzlaf made it to the NHL in 2005-06, but both he and Perry were part-year players that campaign. Getzlaf got into 57 games and scored 39 points. (Perry played 56 and had 25 points.) He became a regular in 2006-07, the year he won the Stanley Cup with the team.  He has since become the Ducks’ leading  all-time  scorer, regular season and playoffs.

And that year, he was a visible force on the way  to the Cup, leading the team in scoring with 7-10-17 points. He has always excelled in the post-season, with 120 points in 125 games and 137 penalty minutes. A memorable five of those were when he fought San Jose captain Joe Thornton right off the hop in April of 2009. Fighting in hockey is often pointless and stupid, but this was energizing, no matter how terrible.

This all came on the heels of a Junior career with the Calgary Hitmen where he twice scored over 100 points and once got 97.

Getzlaf has now become one of 46 NHL players to record 1,000 points with a single franchise (more than 7,400 players have played in the NHL to date). He currently ranks in the top 100 on the NHL’s all-time points (88th) and assists (51st) list and is one of 56 players in NHL history to record 700 assists.

At the retirement announcement, Getzlaf did the expected, thanking the owners and fans. He offered “a special thanks to the general managers, coaches, support staff, teammates, and of course, our fans. Playing for the Ducks and living in Orange County is a dream for an athlete, and much of that is because of you. Thank you all.”

He  might  have been thinking about some of the cars he’s been linked with  over the years, including a Ford GT that went to auction and got him his spot on car-guy  TV. He could afford it, as his lifetime NHL salary earnings topped $95 million USD. Not bad for a guy from Regina, Saskatchewan, a city which has exactly zero Ferrari dealerships.

This year, Getzlaf has three goals and 28 assists to date. This pales somewhat to his career totals, which saw him scoring about one goal for every three assists. But it points up something else—the Captain’s vision. How many times have I seen him wheel into the zone, spot a guy across-ice, and feather a pass that eluded all defenses and landed right on the guy’s stick? It’s a cliché, but true in this case, that Ryan Getzlaf made those who played around him better players.

By all accounts, he made them better people, as well.  The Samuelis reflected this in their statement: “Congratulations, Ryan. You’ve been our leader, our soul and our captain, leaving an indelible mark on our franchise that Ducks fans around the world will never forget.”

Let’s give Getzlaf the last word: “None of this would have been possible without my family, who offered unwavering love and support each step of the way. Thank you to our owners, Henry and Susan Samueli, for leading an organization committed to success on the ice, but more importantly, to making a positive impact in our community and to those in need.”

“It’s been an honor to play in the NHL and spend my entire professional career with one organization,” said Getzlaf. He’s not done, of course, contributing to the Ducks. Who knows what role they’ll later evolve for him, but for now, he cited wanting to play  with his kids before that opportunity passes him by.

 

Notes: 

Selected by Anaheim in the first round (19th overall) of the 2003 NHL Draft, Getzlaf also leads Anaheim in all-time assists, even-strength points (659), overtime goals (11) and power-play assists (254). He ranks second among franchise leaders in power-play points (340), plus/minus (+105) and PIM (954), is third in game-winning goals (57) and fourth in goals. Among players selected in 2003, Getzlaf has the highest points per game (.88), most assists (731) and power-play points (340), and the highest time on ice per game (19:29) among forwards—Ducks PR

A three-time NHL All-Star (2008, 2009, 2015), Getzlaf leads the NHL in all-time overtime assists (24), while he leads the 2003 NHL Draft class in points per game (.88), assists and power-play points. He ranks fifth among NHL leaders in assists since entering the league in 2005-06. He led Anaheim in assists for 13 straight seasons (2007-20), one of two players in NHL history to do so with a single club (also Anze Kopitar, 2007-present)—Ducks PR

Brian Kennedy  is a member of the PHWA.