I think everyone who reads Anaheim Calling knows that I am a huge fan of Paul Kariya. I was holding out high hopes that taking a year off would do him well, and that Selanne would show him the location of the Fountain of Youth, so we could all see the old magic one last time. I wanted to be a better hockey fan, so that I could truly appreciate the brilliance of Kariya. That was what I hoped for this offseason, to have vibrant memories of Kariya and Selanne, the way my father remembers Koufax and Drysdale.
In the late 1990s there was nothing more terrifying than Kariya coming down the left wing with speed. If he was allowed to cut across the crease on the backhand, anything could happen. He was so skilled with the puck that Selanne could go anywhere he wanted, wait for the puck, and shoot the lights out. He was everything a skilled hockey player should be: fast, agile, patient with the puck, a phenomenal passer with a deceptive shot. He used to work the point with Fredrick Olausson on one of the best Power Plays in the league.
He'll walk away as a point per game player for his career, but no one will remember that.
They will remember concussions, lots of them, from Gary Suter, Scott Stevens, Patrick Kaleta and others. Reading the article in the Globe and Mail made my sympathize with Kariya in a way I never had before. It's true that we are oblivious to the full impacts of concussions on athletes. One more bad hit could have turned Kariya into Muhammad Ali, and that is painful to think about.
I am probably one of the few fans who can sincerely say that he was never angry at Kariya when he left for Colorado. I was upset at the first holdout, but I had yet to read any Marx then. My first thought when Bryan Murray made him a free agent was, "What the hell are you thinking?" Kariya endured so much playing in Anaheim. No one went after Gary Suter. He always played hard when he was here, and for a few years, he was the only legitimate star on a team that was a Disney-owned joke. His reward for over a decade of loyal service was ridicule at the hands of a fan base that probably never appreciated how talented he really was.
Kariya is a Hall of Fame player. I'll never forget jumping off my couch when he scored that goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He deserved better than he got, and I'm very sad that he could never get that last year with the Ducks that Selanne offered. He was a Duck, through and through. I always believed that the fans' irrational hate is what kept him away. I'm confident that he always wanted to come back, and he needs to be welcomed back in some capacity by Bob Murray.
Every time we talk about retiring jersey numbers, I think of something Arthur said "When you close your eyes and think of a player, what jersey is he wearing?" Every time I close my eyes, I see Kariya in a Mighty Ducks Jersey. The organization needs to do the right thing and retire his 9. Bobby wears it now, and he can be the last one to wear it, because it is Kariya's. If it wasn't for Kariya, this organization would be long gone. I'm sorry I never got to welcome you back, Paul. You are one of the greatest to ever wear a Ducks jersey and now that it's over, everyone will remember how much they loved you when you played here.