By TOM JONES
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2000
TAMPA -- The jokes hurt. On the outside, he smiled, even laughed. But deep down, it bothered him. Now, he would just as soon forget the whole thing. Alex Selivanov has moved on.
Tonight, Selivanov, the former Lightning forward, makes his first return to Tampa Bay as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. It's just another game for him.
Home now is a winter parka and a set of snow tires. Not a sunny beach and cruel jokes.
He remembers what people said. Alex Son-in-law-ov. Remember that one after he married the boss' daughter? When he married Carrie Esposito, daughter of then-Lightning general manager Phil Esposito, he not only gained a Hall of Fame father-in-law, he gained a locker room full of ridicule.
Even he thought it was funny in 1995-96 when he was scoring 31 goals, and notching the most famous goal in Lightning history -- the Game 3 overtime winner in the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia. But when he signed a fat $2-million a year contract, then scored 31 goals over the next two seasons, it didn't seem funny anymore.
"(His teammates) absolutely got on him," former scout Don Murdoch recently told the Edmonton Journal. "He was on his own. Alex was a great kid with a good sense of humor. He was on one side and other guys went their own way. I felt sorry for him."
By last season's midway point, the pressure was too great. Esposito was long gone, having been fired by former-owner Art Williams. Eventually, Selivanov couldn't stay either, and he was traded to Edmonton.
Selivanov took a couple of shots after he left, saying how the Lightning front office didn't have any "professionals," and that sort of thing. Now, though, he'd rather let the past be the past.
He has moved on.
"It's like a total different team now," Selivanov said earlier this month in Edmonton. "The only thing I recognize is the lightning bolt on the sweater. Everything else is different. New coaches, new general manager, new players, new everything. What happened back then doesn't matter anymore. I have a new team now. A new home."
Selivanov knows he wasn't the most popular player in Lightning history by the time his number came up in Tampa Bay. He knows the fans think he got preferential treatment from Esposito, even though Esposito recently said, "I think he was treated worse by me. I was the one hardest on him."
Selivanov doesn't care what the fans think, he still likes them. His only swipe at them? "Now, I'm playing in a town that loves hockey."
Quickly, though, he catches himself: "But," he said, "Tampa Bay has good fans, too. They just want a winning team."
He doesn't want any more controversy. He's happy now. So are the Oilers despite a horrendous 21-game goal-scoring drought that Selivanov snapped last week. Still, he led the league in goals for the first two months, and is the Oilers' leader with 19.
"He needed a change, and I think the change has done him good," Lightning assistant coach and close friend John Cullen said. "I think he was really misunderstood when he was here, but he meant a lot to me."
Selivanov cried the day Cullen announced he had cancer. Three months later, when Cullen began training for his comeback, Selivanov joined him.
"The first day, he came in with his head shaved because I had lost my hair with the chemotherapy," Cullen said. "I'll never forget what that meant to me. That's how much he cared. ... You see, Sally was a real good guy. All the guys thought so. Guys did not dislike him. That's a myth. But I admit he had a lot of pressure on him being Phil's son-in-law. I think he handled it well, or as best as he could."
Eventually, though, he couldn't handle it anymore. He said he felt relief when he was traded to Edmonton one year ago Saturday in a deal that brought Alexandre Daigle to Tampa Bay.
"I'm happy now," Selivanov said. "I like Edmonton. ... What do I miss about Tampa Bay? I miss St. Pete. The beaches. That's what I miss. And the weather. But I don't miss the hockey team because there is no one left that I know. Everyone's gone except for Chris Gratton and Cully. Those are the only guys I really know there anymore. Edmonton is my team now. Edmonton is my home.
"I have moved on."