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From The Editor: On Paul Kariya

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About a year ago, when this blog was still in its infancy on Blogger, I emailed Earl Sleek about the dearth of Ducks blogs on Battle of California. He looked us over and declared us Sleek-endorsed; he was particularly taken by a quote from Daniel:

Of personal interest is Arthur and Daniel's discussion about Bobby Ryan assuming Paul Kariya's #9 -- money quote for me is this:

"I think Anaheim fans need to suck it up and show Paul the respect he deserves. Anaheim fans are being pouty stereotypical Orange County elitists who think that everyone on their team should do exactly what they want regardless of how disrespectful it is to the person involved, in this case Kariya. I suppose the more I think about it the less I like Bobby wearing 9. It's Kariya's number, and it should stay that way. It should be an unspoken rule."

Hell yes.

Since our move to SBN, also a factor of a Sleek endorsement, we've been curiously mum on the subject of Paul Kariya. My bio is forthcoming about the fact that Kariya (along with Jack Ferreira and later David McNab) lured me to the Ducks at their inception. And Daniel's feelings above are in our archives. Still, I wonder if we've said enough on the subject. Aren't I somehow letting Sleek down? He sold us as a blog that would stand up to the boos, and we haven't.

With Eklund (read untrue) rumors firing up a Kariya discussion, I've decided to dominate the front page today by talking about my experience of Paul Kariya and why I feel no need to boo him. It's an editorial, but it's not meant to persuade you to love Kariya, nor should it be viewed as Kariya apologist propaganda. I'm simply persuading you to consider not booing every former player who doesn't have the nicest things to say about his stay in Anaheim.

We are not management. And management has not always been kind to players. We are not the coaching staff, and the coaching staff has not always understood the players. And we are not every Anaheim fan, so we can't really speak to the players' experience of us as a whole. It's possible for a player to get a raw deal in Anaheim; more than a few have. I say we reserve our boos for the truly deserving, because honestly, unleashing a vitriolic boo on Ryan Whitney just makes us look like a bunch of morons.

So why don't I boo Paul Kariya?

Well, let me first say that I don't care that he's introverted. If he slighted you because he couldn't be personable with you, you're more than entitled to boo him for that experience. Jen does. Early in his career, people tried to make excuses for his aversion to fans, his insistence on using secret exits and shying away from cameras. They tried to say he would grow out of it. But I knew he never would, because I'm introverted.

It's rare that I hear that people are mad about the person that Kariya is, though. Most often, I hear people are bitter about something he said in a newspaper, holdouts, or his departure via free agency in 2003. Many Ducks fans focus on the pay cut in 2003, a factor of the biased and ignorant way in which the information was reported. For the record, under the 94 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Kariya was forced to remain a Restricted Free Agent until age 31, perhaps longer under the next CBA. By playing one year at a salary below the league minimum, he was guaranteed Unrestricted Free Agency, letting him get into the market a year early, but also keeping him free of potential new restrictions under the 2004 CBA. Oh, and what about Bryan Murray's claims that he told Kariya he planned to reunite him with Selanne? I find it as fallacious as it is salacious. I'm not going to boo a man for making a business decision to get out of an unfair CBA or because a GM trying to keep his job implies I should.

So what about what he said in the papers? That he wanted to retire a Duck, win the Cup as a Duck? They could be sports platitudes. But if he meant those things at the time, and he very well could have, there were people-- NHL legends --who thought he was stupid to think it was possible. And if the Cup run in 2003 gave him hope, Bryan Murray's decision not to bring back Adam Oates and Steve Thomas must have put some doubt into his mind. Even after Kariya left, Murray spent all of the money in one place: Fedorov. The quote "play for a winner" was painfully honest when it came to Murray's ability to build a team for another run. We did miss the playoffs that year, and it wasn't all for lack of Paul. As to anything else he said in the papers, the biggest reason I don't boo Paul Kariya is because he had a tough time in '97 during and after the holdout. And if he has bad feelings about the old organization, well, he should.

You can say he got his money, but as Conan O'Brien taught us recently, money isn't everything. You certainly don't need to feel sorry for the person, but it's very possible to get a mountain of money and yet nothing you want in terms of your career.

The '94 holdout is an afterthought to me. He wanted Alexander Daigle money; Ducks GM Jack Ferreira was still hoping to run this operation at cost. After Ferreira acquiesced, people were talking about Kariya being woefully underpaid. But it was the '97 holdout where I think we lost him. After Joe Sakic's RFA stunt, a $15 million signing bonus with the Rangers, Ferreira made it clear that all Kariya offers would be matched, even encouraging his fellow GM's to test Disney. The GM's didn't, but Disney didn't test Kariya much either.

The holdout went on for so long, and there were so many stories. Did Michael Eisner put an ultimatum on the table, and claim that Disney was too strapped to pay the secretarial staff at the Pond? Was the dismissal of Ron Wilson and the general direction of the team the issue? Was the players' association coordinating the holdouts? Ultimately, it seemed to be about term, about the fact that ownership already owned Kariya until he was 31, but they came to him with hopes of 7 years offers, and then 5 year offers, while Kariya insisted on a 3 year deal, which at least gave him the chance to negotiate his forced ownership under the new CBA. It seemed that stubbornness, both of Ferreira and Kariya, ruled the day, but Selanne himself intimated that there was something more to the negotiations than term and money, something that made it a "nightmare at times."

I sit on the sidelines, and I trash players and GM's. I call Bob Murray out for not making Beauchemin an offer. And really, in the grand scheme of things, I have no right to do that. The Ducks are not my career; hockey's not my career. It's a ticket I buy, and the emotion I invest, I can freely divest. But if a player gives an organization nine years of his career (and arguably his best) under contentious player/management relations, if he endures negotiations that go so poorly that he actually considers giving up and playing in the less lucrative leagues, if he finds himself concussed and wondering if his team ever intends on protecting him again, if he endures Pierre Page and years of comic mismanagement and lowballing, and if he listens to another GM talk about the money-saving avenues to the Stanley Cup, then hasn't he earned the right to say what he wants? Wouldn't he know better than you or I?

In many professional leagues, it's classy not to potshot your former organization. But with the owners keeping their players in the dark ages for so long, the NHL isn't one of those leagues.