Nostalgia will be served nightly in the Pacific Division, where 40-year olds Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney and 42-year old Teemu Selanne will be featured in prominent roles on teams looking to re-enter the Western Conference's playoff fray.
Selanne, the leading scorer in Anaheim Ducks history and a collector of 663 goals and 1,406 career points over 1,341 National Hockey League games, will return to Anaheim on a one-year contract worth 4.5 million dollars, as announced on the Ducks' mobile application Thursday.
"There's some unfinished business from last year, and I can't wait to start the season again," he said.
Ranking 12th all time in goals, fourth in power play goals, fifth in game-winning goals and 19th in points, Selanne will have the opportunity to continue to rise through the league's record books opposite a new division rival in Jagr, who signed a one year, 4.55 million dollar deal with Dallas last week.
Jagr's 665 career goals rank 11th all-time and are just two goals above Selanne, providing an additional storyline for Ducks Stars games in 2012-13.
Don't expect the two players to act their age in head to head battles. Selanne appeared in 82 games last season for the first time since Anaheim's Stanley Cup-winning season of 2006-07, while Jagr netted 54 points in Philadelphia after a three-year European hiatus from NHL hockey.
"Age is a funny thing. A lot of times I don't really feel 42 right now," Selanne said. "After all, they're just numbers. It all depends how good you feel, and how healthy you are and how much passion you have for the game. I don't feel that I have been surviving. It's not even close to being that stage yet. That's why I still enjoy the game and its fun to go to the rink every morning. Obviously it sounds pretty old when you say 42 as a hockey player, but mentally I'm still at the same level as Getzlaf and those other young guys."
Gordie Howe holds the record for most single season points by someone who turned 42 before the start of a season, registering 52 points as a 42-year old in 1970-71. He also logged 41 points as a 51-year old in Hartford, nine years later. No player aged 42 or older has ever eclipsed Howe's 23 goals in 1970-71.
With 26 goals and 66 points last season while displaying the skating and finishing ability that recalled earlier periods in his career, Selanne doesn't appear destined for a drop off if he's able to remain healthy.
It's production that the Ducks can't afford to have evaporate as a younger wave of players attempts to challenge for skilled forward roles in complementing the established core of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Rookies Emerson Etem, Peter Holland and Kyle Palmieri will all be battling to earn playing time amidst Anaheim's top lines this season.
With the progression to the mean expected after their power play fell from third in efficiency to 21st over the last two seasons despite similar personnel, and with elite skill laced throughout the top two lines, Selanne's return signals that the Ducks' offense shouldn't expect any drop-off in production from a unit thank ranked 11th in the NHL with 235 goals last season.
It is in defense where Anaheim will need to experience the most significant improvement.
Goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Dan Ellis were peppered for 32.3 shots per game a season ago, the fourth-highest total in the league. Though effective and tough stay-at-home defenseman Sheldon Brookbank signed with Chicago and puck moving power play catalyst Lubomir Visnovsky was traded to the New York Islanders, Selanne expressed support of general manager Bob Murray's moves to bring in size and toughness in stalwart stay-at-home veterans in Bryan Allen and Sheldon Souray via free agency.
"I was talking with Bob before I went to Finland. He made it clear that he wanted to get bigger and tougher in the defense, and we got those moves," Selanne said. "Obviously, we lost a couple of good guys, but I think we got what we were looking for."
In discussing his return with reporters, Selanne alluded to the decision to return being an easier one to make than the decision he made one year ago, when June, 2011 arthroscopic knee surgery delayed his announcement until September of that year.
He spoke in March, 2012 of the process in determining whether or not he'd extend his contract for another season.
"Emotions go high and low during the season, so you've got to get the right feeling. That has been happening for me in the summertime," Selanne said. "When it's time to start pushing and working out and getting ready for a new year, that's the time you have to be ready. That's the time when you have to decide if you're ready to push yourself, because it's a long, hard process. Like I said, it has been working for me very well. I have been so honest for myself, even if I feel 90, I can't do it."
Since then, Selanne received additional motivation from the rival Los Angeles Kings, who won a Stanley Cup despite being only four points above Anaheim in the standings when play ended on February 26. He also took in Los Angeles' 3-1 loss to New Jersey in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, which he called "a hell of a game."
"That's a perfect example that teams, when they go through some tough times during the season, and they heal up together and they start winning as a team, and they've got all the pieces together, you never know. I think it was a great story for hockey in L.A., and overall in hockey because number a number eight seed, you never know what's going to happen in the playoffs. You have to build the momentum in the playoffs. It's a new season, and you never know what's going to happen," Selanne said.
Along with the praise for their Freeway Faceoff rivals came the inwards glance of a team heading into 2012-13 with confidence.
"I truly believe that we have all the pieces, and that what makes this very interesting and special, because like I said earlier, I think we all feel that there's unfinished business," Selanne said.
Such confidence will be necessary for a typically slow starting team that awoke on the morning of November 30 to find itself one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the battle to avoid the NHL's cellar. Despite a win over Montreal, head coach Randy Carlyle was fired later that night.
"For some reason we started last season in Finland, and I felt that we were not really ready to start the season until later when we came back," Selanne said.
"We know that those points were removed in the first half. It's so hard to get those back in the second half. We've got to be ready right away, and I really believe we will."
They'll hope that the momentum brought about by the Bruce Boudreau-led turnaround that saw the Ducks claw their way back into a battle for a playoff spot returns early in 2011. In 58 games under Boudreau, Anaheim was 27-23-8, a record that included a 17-3-4 second half surge.
"The way how he handled the whole situation and how he took the team over, it was unbelievable. The way how positive and the way he treats people, it's very special," Selanne said of Boudreau. "I'm very happy to see how much players like him and how much they were excited to play for him. It affected my decision, too."
It won't be a question that could realistically be gauged for many months from now, but it does beg the thought: exactly how many years does Selanne have left?
If Boudreau's pithy assessment from late last season is any indication, the fervent desire to play is still incredibly strong in the future Hall of Famer.
"I have to fight him to give him a day off," the Ducks coach said.
"I still feel that I have something to give," said Selanne.