Anaheim Ducks Tales: When Paul Kariya Almost Came Back

Paul Kariya #9 of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)
Paul Kariya #9 of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI) /
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Anaheim Ducks
DENVER – JANUARY 6: Paul Kariya #9 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrates with Joe Sakic #19, Rob Blake #4, Teemu Selanne #8 and Martin Skoula #41 (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

Paul Kariya did not Leave the Organization on Great Terms

Kariya, of course, was the first superstar in the history of the team after being the first-ever draft pick back in 1993. After making his debut in the shortened 1994-95 season he was excellent for the next nine years in Southern California.

In 606 games Kariya put up 669 points, topping 25 goals in every year with the Mighty Ducks with the exception of his rookie year and 1997-98 season after a cheap shot from Gary Suter. Selanne joined Kariya in 1996 and the two became one of the most dynamic duos in the NHL, combining for 830 points between 1997-2001.

Selanne was moved to the San Jose Sharks midway through the 2001 season and Kariya played through the 2003 season when the Mighty Ducks lost game 7 to the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals. After the season, Kariya left after a lengthy dispute on his contract. Former GM Bryan Murray was required to offer a $10 million qualifying offer to Kariya in order to prevent the star from hitting unrestricted free agency.

At this point, the league had yet to implement a salary cap and revenue sharing that really hampered teams based on their market. The Mighty Ducks being a small market team with a small budget made it difficult to commit such a dollar figure to one player as the late Murray recounted.

"“When you’re building a contending team, it’s hard to have one player at $10 million when the payroll is in the mid to low 40s (millions).” –Bryan Murray, Anaheim Ducks GM (2002-04)"

While Selanne opted out of his final year with the San Jose Shark, his priority was to return to the place that he considered his home and sign with the Mighty Ducks.

"“I was ready to come back to Anaheim, but then Paul had some issues with his contract negotiation with the Ducks and he got so mad and he called me ‘we have to go somewhere else’, and I said ‘what?! I want to come home’.”"

From there, the duo was able to sign with any team that wanted the two All-Star forwards. Unfortunately, the place the two previously called home would not be part of that group. Once free agency opened up, Kariya and Selanne decided to join a loaded Colorado Avalanche squad who already featured future Hall of Famers Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Rob Blake to go along with players such as Adam Foote, Milan Hejduk, and Alex Tanguay.

While I mentioned there was no salary cap at this time having so many high payroll players still needed the two to reduce their annual figures. In order to chase a cup on an already loaded team, Selanne signed for one year at $5.8 million, and Kariya taking an $8.8 million pay cut by signing for $1.2 million for the year.

While leaving the Mighty Ducks on the terms he did ruffled fans in the wrong way, leaving and taking the pay cut he did in comparison really soured Kariya to the Mighty Ducks fans. As seen on the 2004 Colorado Avalanche season documentary, fans most definitely did not welcome him back with open arms (42:00 minute mark).

Unfortunately for the duo, injuries played a major factor for both of them in different ways. It is well documented how bad Teemu’s knee was at that point in his career and while he was able to play in 78 games that season, he was relatively ineffective by his standards putting up 16 goals and 32 points. Kariya dealt with a nagging wrist and ankle injury, only getting into 51 games putting up 11 goals and 36 points. The Avalanche would be knocked out by the Sharks in the second round.