What if the Headshots Never Happened and Kariya Returned for a Final Year?
In addition to the aforementioned hits by Suter and Kaleta, many fans of the game remember the shot Kariya took from Scott Stevens in Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. As much as “off the floor, on the board” still gives me goosebumps watching to this day, the fact the most memorable part of his career was getting knocked out on the ice to the point of memory loss is a bit sad as a fan.
While health should always be a person’s priority, if one of those hits had not happened, Anaheim Ducks fans could have gotten the send-off they always wanted to see for their long-time captain. That is why it still makes me think “what could have been” when it comes to Kariya playing that last season in 2010-11.
For starters, it would have been very different seeing him play in the black, gold, and orange after exclusively wearing the eggplant and jade for all the year with the Mighty Ducks. Additionally, Bobby Ryan would have changed his number at some point, as he is the only other player to don number 9 in franchise history. Finally, with the retirement of Scott Niedermayer, would the Ducks have selected Ryan Getzlaf to be their captain, or would they potentially of gave it back to Paul for potentially his last year?
Speaking of Niedermayer, if Paul had returned, maybe he would have decided to postpone his retirement to play one more season with his long-time friend and former Olympic teammate. The possibilities are endless.
The forgotten piece in all of this is that the Anaheim Ducks were actually pretty good back in 2010-11. They finished 4th in the Western Conference with 99 points. This was the year that Corey Perry put up his 50 goal Hart Trophy campaign, along with Jonas Hiller playing lights out, making the All-Star team but losing the end of his season to vertigo (honestly that prevented the team from an extended playoff run, he was that good that year).
Lubomir Visnovsky led the league for points by a defenseman that year with 68, Ryan Getzlaf missed a handful of games due to a facial fracture but still managed 76 points in 67 games, Bobby Ryan had another fantastic season with 34 goals and 71 points, and at the ripe age of 40, Teemu Selanne put up one of his best seasons with 80 points in 73 games.
While the team was good they were very top-heavy. Visnovsky finished fifth on the team in points with Saku Koivu’s 45 and rookie Cam Fowler’s 40 being the next highest. Their depth scoring included 26 games of Joffrey Lupul, aging veteran Jason Blake, and young promising forward Brandon McMillian.
While Kariya was getting older, he still likely could have helped this team with more scoring depth as most of his issues over the years were his health. In this reality, Kariya is still healthy enough to rejoin his former partner in crime in Selanne. With Teemu scoring 80 points playing mainly with Koivu (45 points) and Blake (32), potentially bringing the opportunity to bring some of the old magic back with Kariya could have provided the Ducks with that extra scoring punch while bringing much nostalgia as well.
Kariya retiring as a Duck would have also immediately quashed any ill-will that may have been present at the time. It has been well documented about Kariya’s disappearance from the game of hockey once he retired because of how he was unable to leave on his own terms. From his retirement the only time Kariya returned to Honda Center was for his friend Selanne’s final regular-season game where he attended with Joe Sakic.
Back in 2015 when the Anaheim Ducks retired Selanne’s number 8, Kariya was notably absent, stating a prior commitment. While rumors were he did not was to direct any negative attention during the ceremony, the video clip he did for his former teammate received a standing ovation, clearly showing that the fans were happy to see Paul again.
Since then, the relationship with the fans has clearly been healed. Kariya has done a handful of work with the Ducks social media, was honored for his induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame back in 2017, and of course, finally having his number raised in 2018. While Kariya is clearly still not a big fan of the spotlight, he knows that whenever he returns to Honda Center it is always in open arms.