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To the Samuelis, Concerning Paul Kariya

Daniel opens up to the owners about Paul Kariya and history

The Score

Dear Henry and Susan Samueli,

First, let me apologize. This letter will, at times, come across as accusatory, or incendiary. That is not my intent. This letter is, in my own awkward way, a thank you letter. However, that thank you comes with a reminder of sorts. Having confessed my true intent I would like to begin.

If you'll forgive a popculture reference from a fairly crass show, South Park, I will begin in the before time, the long, long ago.  There was a movie, followed by a PR stunt that became an expansion NHL franchise that is a 10 minute drive down Katella Avenue from Disneyland. Fans of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were stigmatized as being out of touch with the game, followers of a gimmick, and bandwagon miscreants who would fade concurrently with the Disney glitter. I am confident that every team has a few fans who lack intricate, or sometimes basic, knowledge of the game, so I try not to fault the voices screaming "SHOOT", during every power play.  However, Anaheim fans have proven that they saw the value in the sport of hockey rather than the Disney cash cow, and we have proven to be a durable and loyal fanbase, albeit not as large as others.

Our loyalty and fervor were what made the Disney years so hard. The glitter did wear off, and we were left with an ownership group that was as interested in building a winning hockey team as it was in moving Disneyland to Compton. The constant was Paul Kariya. He was electric, cutting through defenders, piling up points, and releasing a bomb from the point on the power play, not to mention an underrated backhand that still marvels me.  Kariya was the reason we watched the Mighty Ducks, as well as the fact that they were our Mighty Ducks.

The acquisition of Teemu Selanne was joyous and perilous simultaneously. The chemistry between those two was tantamount to Disney magic, but the team failed to make other acquisitions. For many years we lived with Steve Rucchin, a wonderful hockey player, but not a top line center. The team never had a top tier defenseman. The Dynamic Duo frequently found the score sheet, but the team suffered from insufficient depth come playoff time. Finally, Selanne was deemed to be too expensive as a free agent, and was traded to San Jose in what was arguably the worst move in franchise history.

Ultimately, Jack Ferreira gave way to Pierre Gauthier, who failed epically, and we were given Bryan Murray. Murray stopped operating in the Disney confines and earned enough freedom to construct a team that would make it all the way to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final.  For fans, it was the culmination of  decade of loyalty.  We endured the name calling and the jeering, surely now we had to be taken seriously. Sadly, Kariya left after that season. He and Selanne went to Colorado, and for some inexplicable reason the fans blamed Kariya but welcomed back Selanne with open arms. I digress.

The point is that the Mighty Ducks era was one marred by a lack of success, but enriched by a fan base that refused to surrender. This brings me to you, Mr. and Mrs. Samueli. After the lockout, your purchase of the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took us from the darkness and obscurity of the Disney experiment and into the ranks of legitimate NHL franchises. Still, some things have been forgotten. For the first half decade of your ownership, it has always seemed that you wanted to forget the past rather than embrace it. The old logo on the shoulder of the third jersey is as close as you came to that era. Surely, the fans are partially to blame. With Disney gone, we could shed former stigmas for a new lease on our hockey fandom. We embraced new jerseys, welcomed new players whose legends had been built outside the confines of our small hockey market.  We enthusiastically supped on the joy of a well earned and deserved Cup victory.  With the Cup in hand, the talk turned to a familiar name, a voice from our past.

Kariya did not have a good experience in Anaheim, regardless of the careful PR statements I am sure he knows to make. He was handed formerly great players who had become cast offs in their waning years, and often could not play to his level. He was not protected on the ice and suffered many injuries as a result, most notably Gary Suter's cross-check to the jaw. He was villainized for contract disputes in an era where free agency was unreachable until the age of 31, when a player's best producing years are usually behind him. Kariya was a steady light in a hockey town that desperately wanted a shining star. Unfortunately, Kariya only shone on the ice. When Murray hinted he might make Kariya a free agent in order to re-structure his deal; Kariya's camp informed Murray he would hear other offers.  Kariya's departure didn't sit well with some fans who demanded loyalty no matter the cost to the player, fans who only consider professional sports a business when they want a player to leave.

I understand that there were "throwback" jerseys last year, so that eggplant and jade could once again dot the arena. However, you have been careful to distance yourself from the Disney history. It appears as though you see it as a specter of the past, rather than the building blocks of your fan base. I was a PROUD Mighty Ducks fan, and that is the sole reason why I am still a PROUD Ducks fan. This letter is my hope that you will embrace that past more fervently. More accurately, this letter is my attempt to tell you one thing you can do to bridge that gap in the most effective way possible: retire the 9.

I am writing to you, because only you, as the owners, have the sufficient power to guarantee this happens. There was a time when the Ducks of Anaheim were Mighty, a time when we endured the malicious mocking of older, entitled fan bases, a time when Paul Kariya filled the Pond.  Paul Kariya carried this franchise for 9 seasons. He is what we think of when we remember that before time, the long, long ago. You have created a new hockey culture here, and for that we are appreciative. I know your shrewd business sense realized you could not test this fan base by welcoming back Kariya too soon, but it is over now. He has retired; we have grown. It is time to merge the past with the present, to remind new fans of why the team was here for them to discover and to remind old fans of why we stayed for so long.

I have faith that you will make the correct decision. The 9 belongs to Kariya and it should hang in the rafters. Dedicate a night to him. He doesn't even have to show up. Celebrating him is the right thing to do, and we should do what is right regardless of how others conduct themselves. He need not accept our appreciation, but we should still be appreciative. I thank you for your time, and what you have done for a team that is perhaps too near to my heart.


Daniel of Anaheim Calling