Column: Ryan Getzlaf isn’t ready for retirement just yet. He’s back for Year 17 with the Ducks

Ryan Getzlaf didn’t sleep much the night before the NHL’s trade deadline last season.

Drafted by the Ducks in 2003, a member of their Stanley Cup team in 2007 and their captain since 2010, Getzlaf was nearing the end of an eight-year contract. The Ducks were struggling — again — and he was soon to become an unrestricted free agent. Contenders eyed him as someone who might put them over the top, but he had never imagined playing anywhere else.

Getzlaf and his wife, Paige, an Orange County native, had discussed the best options for them and their four children. Getzlaf took their decision to general manager Bob Murray.

“I had a no-move clause, and I told him that if it came where he got offered something that could make this team better, he owed it to the team to bring it to me and at least ask what I would do,” Getzlaf said. Murray checked with him again the day of the deadline, before the team plane left for San Jose. “Ultimately I told Bob that if the deal’s right, then you’ve got to do it,” Getzlaf said.

Murray had something going but it fell through. Getzlaf was relieved. “There was so much back and forth,” he said, “where for 10 minutes I’d be so excited to have an opportunity to play for the Cup again, and then another 10 minutes would go by and I’d think of everything I’d be leaving behind with the fans, the experience I’ve had with the organization, all that stuff.”

Getzlaf stayed. He stayed again this summer when, at 36, he got his first chance to test the free-agent market. “Even at my age it was exciting to have phone calls that teams wanted you,” he said.

Getzlaf, who holds the Ducks’ franchise assists record with 703 and is six points from matching Teemu Selanne’s franchise record of 988, signed a one-year deal worth $3 million plus up to $1.5 million in bonuses. It might be the last playing contract he signs.

The Saskatchewan native, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada, had never thought much about his future until about a year and a half ago. His scoring had declined, which could be expected in a league fueled by youth and speed. Then his totals plunged last season to five goals and 17 points in 48 games while his ice time fell to an average of 16 minutes and 35 seconds per game, his lowest since his first full season in 2006-07.

Signing for one year allows him to see how much he has left — and to see how much better the Ducks will be after adding Jeff Solomon to their front office as vice president of hockey operations and hiring Geoff Ward, Newell Brown and Mike Stothers as assistants to coach Dallas Eakins. Maybe one of them will miraculously make over a power play that ranked last in the NHL last season.

“When you’re winning, everything’s easy. … Everybody’s happy and happy to be there every day, and we’re trying to create that again.”

Ryan Getzlaf

The idea of retiring has floated through his mind but isn’t at the forefront, Getzlaf said Tuesday, a day before players reported to training camp. “It’s really hard to make any kind of assumption based on how last year was, such a weird year, the unsuccess we had, that kind of stuff. It wasn’t a very fun season,” he said during a chat outside the team’s practice facility in Irvine.

“So, I’m hoping this year going in with the world somewhat getting back to normal, hopefully the fans are back in the building, all that kind of stuff, can create energy and we can really enjoy ourselves this season.”

He called the organizational changes “a good step forward” toward improving preparation and communication. “In our business you spend a lot of time at the rink. You spend a lot of time together. And if somebody is dictating what you do every day it gets a little monotonous. It gets old,” he said.

“I think there’s been a little bit more player input on how to make things more exciting at the rink, how to have fun while we’re here. Which is not an easy thing to do when you’re not winning. When you’re winning, everything’s easy. There’s nothing hard about managing or coaching a hockey team when you’re winning. Everybody’s happy and happy to be there every day, and we’re trying to create that again.”

Ryan Getzlaf, left, jumps into the arms of Ducks goalie Jean Sebastian Giguere as they celebrate winning the Stanley Cup championship after a 6-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on June 6, 2007.

(Kevork Djanszian / Associated Press)

The Ducks must turn the keys to the team over to their kids this season, but Getzlaf can still play a key role as a mentor and leader.

“Up until now nobody has emerged to be fully better than him every night,” Eakins said. “But I think that as our younger players mature and our younger players get better, I think that makes Ryan better, too, because he’s highly competitive and he’s going to fight hard..

“He’s not going to go, ‘Way to go kid. You got me and I’m out.’ He’s going to fight for it. And I know that’s how teams get better, that push and that pull.”

Getzlaf said he’s not much of a stats guy but he’s honored to be within reach of Selanne’s team points record. He was more deeply touched by the suggestion his No. 15 surely will join Selanne’s 8, Paul Kariya’s 9 and Scott Niedermayer’s 27 among the team’s retired jerseys someday.

“That’s always been something I’d take a lot more pride in than any numbers, I think, is being here, being part of this organization forever,” he said.

For this season, at least, he’s home where he belongs.

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