She's A Beauty That #9: Kariya's Jersey

Gone are the days of the eggplant, mint green and white jerseys with the Mighty Duck crest; only to be replaced by the black, white, gold, and (dead Muppet) orange with the web-print D. Many Ducks fans came to the franchise post-lockout while the team was still wearing the original jerseys. It was around that time GM Brian Burke used the Mighty Ducks' second overall pick in the draft to take a kid out of Cherry Hill, New Jersey named Bobby Ryan.

Throughout his young hockey career, Ryan had worn the #9 on the back of his jersey; however, under Burke, all rookies playing with the big club would be relegated to higher jersey numbers until the GM (and coach) felt that the young player had earned his spot. Once landing with the Ducks, Ryan wore #54 until he was given the blessing to change his jersey to his regular #9. For long time Ducks' fans, the sight of a new #9, one that hadn't been worn since 2003, brought back memories of the one who wore it first - Anaheim's prodigal son, Paul Kariya.

Kariya officially retired last week, leading many Ducks' fans to debate whether his jersey should be retired by the franchise he helped to build, but would later leave. So Arthur, Daniel, and Earl, should Kariya's #9 jersey be retired or not?

PRO-JERSEY RETIREMENT

ARTHUR:

For me, the question of retiring Kariya's number brings me back to Joe Sakic's number retirement ceremony two years ago.

Now, say what you want about Kariya, but if anyone ever said, in bold ALL CAPS that they didn't want to play for their current franchise, that they refused to submit to the indentured servitude imposed upon them by the '90s collective bargaining agreement that kept them RFA's of the team that drafted them until age 31, that they refused to play for anything less than an inflated salary and had every intention of screwing management, it was Joe Sakic in 1997.

Under Sakic's three year, $21 million dollar contract with the Rangers, $17 million (via a $15 million bonus) was due at the end of the first year, leaving him hovering at 2M for the rest of the deal. Seventeen million dollars was a lot of money for the Avalanche, who were hemorrhaging cash and ultimately gave Sakic the money they received in their new arena to keep him in Colorado.

Still, the Avalanche fans cried, literally TEARS, at Sakic's number retirement ceremony. Do Avs fans understand the Collective Bargaining Agreements better than Ducks fans? Are they naturally more pro-player than pro-management? I don't think so (though the quickness with which the Anaheim faithful turned on Bobby Ryan was rather unsettling). Ultimately, the Avs were willing to pay whatever ludicrous amount was necessary to keep Sakic in uniform and secure the money their superstar brought the franchise. Despite the message that his RFA offer sheet signature sent, they kept him.

Again, say what you want about Kariya, but his intentions to leave Anaheim at any cost were never that blatant. He wanted his freedom, I'm sure-- every prime-aged player waking up to the reality of the '90s CBA's RFA restrictions did. However, when it came down to it, when his freedom was in sight and Bryan Murray told him he wouldn't submit a qualifying offer for the left winger, Kariya made a phone call which Randy Youngman recently revealed to Ducks fans:

"But Murray also conceded that Kariya's agent, Don Baizley, warned the GM his client would at least explore his options if Kariya was not qualified. A few days later on June 29, Kariya called Murray at a hotel in Canada and informed him, "Bryan, if you don't qualify me, I think I should look around." When Kariya and Selanne signed with Colorado on July 3, Murray was upset that he didn't get a chance to make a counter-offer, as Baizley had promised he would."

I'm not sure what more Paul Kariya owed Bryan Murray, Disney, or any of us. The franchise didn't want to pay him his qualifying offer, and he called them to warn them that he would be exploring his freedom if they didn't. Sakic was not a "better" man than Kariya, and yet Sakic gets tears, while Kariya cashes jeers.

Even if I was bitter, and I'm not, it would come down to one thing for me: the ice. On the ice, Kariya did everything he could in service of the shield. That includes taking EVERY concussion that damaged his brain, save for the final Kaleta elbow. In almost ten years out of a Ducks uniform, Kariya had no head injuries, meaning the franchise that watched over the display of what he could do as an offensive phenomenon claims some responsibility for what he can't do now. In that sense, I'm actually happy that the guy found other places to play; it may have been the best thing for his health, as one more concussion following Stevens headshot would have ended his career.

There is no 'thank you' to compensate Kariya for his brain damage. Ten million dollars a year for the rest of his life wouldn't do it. And raising his jersey into the rafters, as permanent as that might be, also seems like a gesture that falls short of true gratitude for the sacrifice made.

Of course they should retire his number, of course they should welcome him into the front office. My only question is, what MORE can they do, and why aren't they doing it?

DANIEL:

The fact that this question needs to be asked is a little ridiculous. Kariya was the first superstar in Anaheim. I'd go so far as to say that he was the biggest hockey player in Southern California after the Kings moved Gretzky. I'm not going to bore you with stats. You can read them for yourself.

The main argument against Kariya's number going up in the rafters is how he left. Everyone seems to be mad at Kariya for saying what he was supposed to say, after the Mighty Ducks had just lost the Cup. I didn't realize that generic sporting comments were solemn oaths. Of course he said he was coming back. At the time of the rally, he was still under contract. I don't think he was expecting a buy out.

Why is it that sports are only a business when it serves our purpose to label them as such? Jeff Carter and Mike Richards give Philly a discount in exchange for longevity. No one stands up for their mistreatment. Everyone tells them to do their job and report to the new team. When a player makes a decision to leave, after being cut loose by his franchise, all of the sudden he's betrayed the fans. I don't understand how Murray didn't betray the fans when he expected Kariya to give up 10 million dollars he had already earned from a previous deal. I don't understand how Selanne didn't betray the fans when he decided to play for Colorado after deciding that persuading Kariya to go to Anaheim wasn't worth his energy. When did Selanne become a child who was put on a leash and dragged to Colorado by Kariya? How quickly Ducks fans forget that Selanne didn't want to play in Anaheim that year, either. If hockey is a business, then it's always a business. A player making a business decision can't undo the 9 seasons of amazing work he did. It doesn't mean he hated Anaheim or its fans; it means that it wasn't the best move for his career.

I know Selanne holds all the records, but if he hadn't shown up on the Ponda Center doorstep with a surgically repaired knee looking for a job, would there be any doubt who the greatest player in franchise history is? Paul Kariya is the greatest Mighty Duck of all time. There was a Disney era, a Mighty Duck era, and now there is a Duck era. Selanne has played more seasons in the Duck era than he did in Kariya's time. While most of the best memories have happened in the new era, the first era was still uniquely ours, as were all the amazing things that Paul did during that era. It's important to remember that history, if for no other reason than surviving it allowed us to endure, as a fan base, and reap the benefits of new ownership. Kariya was the quintessential Mighty Duck, a player who endured a budding franchise's multiple mistakes, and continued to play his heart out for us. He was the player who left everything on the ice, and did his job.

One of my favorite MCs, 2Mex, once noted "worship the music, not the man". From 1994-2003, Kariya was Bach. When he made a business decision, the same decision Selanne made, he was rewarded with banishment, while Selanne was sanctified. If Anaheim fans had welcomed Kariya instead of punishing him, we wouldn't be having this discussion. In Fact, Selanne would still be chasing his old friend's franchise records. Kariya will enter the hall of fame on the back of his 989 points in 989 games. He will enter as a Mighty Duck. It's fitting that his old home give him the same honor, and retire his 9.

Thank you Paul. I offer the sincerest of thank yous from a fan who remembers that while you worked for a company famous for its magic, you conjured up some of the most remarkable memories for hockey fans everywhere.

EARL SLEEK (from Battle of California):

Obviously the crux of this number-retirement debate is going to boil down to Kariya's "backstabbing" departure from Anaheim - days after the magical 2003 cup finals run, he snubbed a sizable Ducks' offer to sign a dirt-cheap contract with a loaded Colorado team. And while that betrayal still pisses off a lot of very legitimate Ducks fans, I just don't know that never-ending loyalty is a reasonable expectation in today's league - backstabbing is becoming way too commonplace, both by players and teams.

After all, Anaheim itself has been the beneficiary of a superstar player betraying his team shortly after a G7 SCF loss when Chris Pronger forced a trade out of Edmonton - difficult to imagine the Ducks participating in that auction had Paul Kariya's contract been on the books. And we really shouldn't forget that Teemu Selanne also turned down an Anaheim offer to play with Kariya in Colorado; the beloved Finnish Flash shares some culpability in PK's hated decision. (Teams are guilty of backstabbing players, also - Philadelphia traded Richards and Carter despite both players' commitments to the franchise, Setoguchi got traded a day after signing a nice deal, etc.)

So even though we all hate how Kariya left, I don't think it should outweigh how crucial he was while he was here - from the Mighty Ducks' laughingstock days to their ascent into Stanley Cup Finals legitimacy, he was the exact captain that the team needed, both on and off the ice. Jen already shared my tweet, but yeah - if not for PK, I wouldn't be a Ducks fan today. The guy won me over in so many aspects (the shallowest being that we're both half-Asian), but especially in the fact that he played for the silliest-named team in sports history and kept his chin up about it. Back when I was a new fan, that was hugely important - I assume Kariya was disappointed being drafted by a team named after a kids movie, but he never showed it; he carried himself just as if he'd been picked by an original six team. And he was perfect for the new market. His beautiful on-ice play with Selanne lured non-hockey fans like myself into the building, helping us appreciate a non-violent aspect of a largely violent sport, plus the duo's off-ice charisma helped win us over further, acquainting us with the personalities behind the hockey plays. In a lot of areas, those two superstars not only helped the Mighty Ducks become a better hockey team, but they also really helped Anaheim become a better hockey market.

And that's really why I'm in favor of retiring #9, along eventually with #8. The Ducks are no longer the new franchise they once were, Anaheim is no longer a new market it once was, and I think we've entered a phase in franchise history when we should celebrate those advances. In my mind, it really can't be done without recognizing both Kariya and Selanne -one of them simply couldn't have been nearly so effective at cementing this franchise as the two of them together.

Of course Ducks fans are deeply divided on this issue, enough so that the number-retiring probably won't happen of its own accord. But I do have a proposed solution, one that we might agree on - let's ask Teemu his opinion, and follow through with whatever he suggests. Selanne seems genuinely excited about the idea of playing next season, particularly for the opener in Helsinki and the December game in Winnipeg - if he'd get amped up for a Kariya ceremony as well, let's do it.

Whatever the decision, thanks for everything, PK.

ANTI-JERSEY RETIREMENT

JEN:

I was at the game when Bobby Ryan skated out for the first time wearing the #9. Because it wasn't announced beforehand, it was a shocking, yet cathartic moment. Here was one of the key pieces to the future of the Ducks wearing a symbol of the past. In a way, it was closure to a very messy ending.

Regardless of what actually happened, many Ducks' fans see Kariya as everything the boys argue his isn't - a turncoat that wanted more money or to win at any cost. To raise Kariya's jersey up to the rafters cannot be met with a positive response from the current group of Ducks' faithful. The fans of the team are more likely to support a "Paul Kariya Night" (without jersey retirement) or a renaming of part of the renovated area as the "Paul Kariya Hall of Champions". With the latter, the Ducks can display the accomplishments of Kariya and his Mighty Ducks teammates and marry it together with the successes of the current Ducks.

Retiring Kariya's jersey is essentially taking the number right off the back of one of the most recognizable members of the Ducks and giving it to someone that turned their back on us right after the franchise went on the most unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final. From a PR perspective, it may be a "feel good" story to recognize Kariya, but on the other end, it's ignoring how much Bobby has done for the Ducks. I'm sure publicly BR would be gracious in surrendering his number so it could be retired, but I don't think it's right. Remember when Teemu came back and was wearing the #13 because Sandis Ozolinsh was wearing the #8? No one forced Ozolinsh to give the jersey back to Teemu, and Teemu is the most beloved member of the franchise. (By the way, if I were Teemu, I wouldn't want to play for a GM/owners that dealt me away from my bff to the Sharks. The argument that he left too is ridiculous.)

The four of us and readers of the site are the exception. We read everything and anything on the Ducks. Until Arthur explained everything to me on what happened with Kariya, I was just like everyone else, but that doesn't change my stance. I appreciate everything PK did as a Mighty Duck, but that was in the past. He left. Period. The only Duck getting their jersey retired in the near future (after five more good years on the ice) is Selanne and rightfully so.

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