What would you do if you made enough money to retire in your mid-30s? Most people successful enough to do that don’t just golf. They’re too competitive for a life of leisure. If they’ve built one business, they build another one. With athletes, it’s a little bit different. Mostly, they don’t retire at the peak of their abilities. They retire when they’re on the wane.
Ryan Getzlaf has timed his retirement just about right. He’s still good enough to be valuable, and not just for the great intangible, leadership. But he’s feeling the game in his body, according to what he’s said in the media over the past year or so, and more so lately. It’s like when Gretzky stopped playing—he just didn’t have it to rebuild in the summer to be ready for another grind in the fall. He could do it, but why keep doing it?
Surely not for the money. According to public sources, Getzlaf has made nearly $100 million dollars in his NHL career. He’s got a stable family. He can make enough as the spokesperson for any OC business he wants to to supplement the budget should his kids decide to go to Ivy League universities.
So retirement makes sense. But what’s he going to do?
People in the Anaheim area think he’ll stay involved with the Ducks. This is the more likely because he didn’t do what a lot of people thought he would at last year’s trade deadline and go elsewhere for another try at the Cup. (You know full well he won one in 2007, I’m sure.) He’s a Duck through and through. But he has also said that he isn’t interested in coaching—and why would one be? That grind isn’t just what the players experience, but that plus all the prep that gets coaches ready to interact with players.
This is even more the case, I should think, in a Western Conference team. How’s a person supposed to see his kids grow up, an avowed goal of Getzlaf, when he’s on the road as much as the Western teams are?
Anyhow, the Ducks are pretty good at coming up with alternative jobs for their former stars. Scott Niedermayer is the obvious example of someone who stayed involved as a special advisor to the team. Teemu Selanne is nearby, frequently appearing at games. (Think about that, East-coast hockey fans—the Anaheim Ducks have enough of a history to have Hockey Hall of Famers—already in or to-be-in, like Getzlaf—as halo people.)
So Getzlaf is unlikely to disappear altogether. If nothing else, he’ll be around as a go-to person in good times and bad when the team’s younger players need help.
He ended his career in fine style, playing over twenty-one minutes in a 6-3 loss to the Blues of St. Louis. With nothing riding on the game for the Ducks, out of the playoff hunt as they are, it didn’t matter that the team lost, though of course it would have been nice for him had they won. But Getzlaf won the day anyway. He mostly stayed visible through fifty-plus minutes of clock playing time. Then he gave one more spectacular dish to end his career with yet another assist, his point total grown to 1019 and his year’s numbers standing at 3-34-37 in 56 games. Back to that in a moment.
Note that he also had 120 points in 125 playoff games over his career, obviously nearly a point per game. During 17 years in the NHL, he spent 12 years as captain. He was a three-time all-star and stands as the Ducks’ all-time leading scorer.
The respect he had earned was all made evident as the game began with a video tribute that featured comments from Gary Bettman, Scott Niedermayer, Brad May, JS Giguere, Corey Perry, and others. Perry in particular, choked up as he described the friendship the two shared as teammates on the Ducks (until he decamped for first Dallas, then Montreal, then Tampa Bay starting in 2019-20).
Then Getzlaf was presented with a golf package and a mini four-wheel drive driven onto the ice by Teemu Selanne. Getzlaf didn’t say anything at the time, because after all, there was a game to be played. But afterwards, he was vocal in his thanks to his family, including his parents and brother, and his spouse Paige and his four kidlets.
One wonders how long it will take to retire #15. Surely nobody else will ever wear it in the OC. And in short order, he’ll be headed to Toronto to get a Hall of Fame ring, no doubt.
But back to the game: It began with two first-period goals by the Ducks on their first two shots, only to see the Blues pump in four unanswered in period two. They put two more in before six minutes were gone in the third, and that looked to be it. Then Getzlaf had one final moment.
The Captain got a pass from Troy Terry as he glided into the offensive zone, a familiar pose for him. He reached the right face-off dot and shifted his weight as if to shoot a wrister, freezing the goalie. Then he made a no-look backhand pass exactly on the stick of Adam Henrique, who had a wide-open net to throw the puck into. As the puck sailed into the net, he spun to his left to watch the goal.
Dissect that on several levels: youth and age with Terry and Getzlaf, handing down leadership from one veteran to another in Getzlaf to Henrique, and pure skill that slows down the game and puts the puck to a teammate with pinpoint precision. That was Getzlaf, and he did it 737 times on the way to a career total 1019 points.
Freeze that play in your mind, along with his cross-ice diagonal dish last night to Zegras up in Los Angeles, to replay whenever his name comes to your brain. Or maybe you have others, similar no doubt. This guy did this a lot. He can still do it. But it’s time to let him go.
Ryan Getzlaf ended as a winner. His last, long shift featured a faceoff win deep in the Ducks’ end. And then it was all over except the congratulations.
He received acknowledgement from his teammates and the Blues after the game. Then he sat on the bench for one last time in uniform and said his goodbyes, which were brief. “It’s an emotional time. This has been my life for so long. This building, showing up every day has been all that I’ve known, so we’ll wake up tomorrow and see what’s next, but I love this place, and thank you so much for having me.”
“This is a game that I’ve loved for so long, and I’ve tried to give everything I have every time I stepped onto this ice, and to build this beautiful family next to me, and I’m just looking forward to the next chapter right now.”
The Ducks have two games remaining, those being against San Jose on Tuesday and Dallas on Friday.
The Blues are cruising towards a playoff series with Minnesota and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Congratulations to Josh Brewster, whose Duck Calls episode tonight will be the final one for this, his 16th, season. Looking forward to listening for many more years, and hopefully continuing to be one of Josh’s regular guests.
Brian Kennedy is a Member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.