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Hall Of Fame Night: Retire The Nine

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The case for immortalizing Paul Kariya

Paul Kariya #9 of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks

With Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne going into the Hall of Fame this week, what better time than now to reflect on the career of Paul Kariya and make the case for the number 9 to be immortalized next to number 8.

So let’s begin by looking purely at Kariya’s statistics during his time as a Duck. Kariya played in 606 games as a Mighty Duck over the course of 9 seasons. During this span, he put up 300 goals and 369 assists for 669 points, good for 1.10 points per game, and had two 100+ point season and one 99 point season. Those point totals become even more gaudy when you take a look at how many goals the Ducks scored during those seasons and factor in that this was during the Dead Puck era.

Over the three seasons Kariya put up over 100 points and 99 points (95-96, 96-97, and 98-99). He scored 308 points while the Ducks scored 694 goals in total. When he left Anaheim, he was the franchise leader in all major scoring categories and still currently leads the franchise in points per game.

To think his impact on the ice could have been even greater had the NHL protected players properly then. Kariya famously dealt with concussion issues throughout his career, with the first major one cutting his 97-98 season short at the young age of 23.

Now, some people may try to argue that he was not with the franchise long enough or his overall point totals as a Duck are not high enough to warrant him getting the ultimate recognition by the franchise. He currently sits 3rd in goals, 4th in assists, 4th in points, and 5th in games played. If this was any other player right now or in the future I would agree with them, but Kariya is a special case due to his impact on a new franchise that cannot be measured by statistics.

People say that without Gretzky coming to the Kings, the Mighty Ducks would not be a team. This is definitely true, but without Paul Kariya the Ducks fanbase as we know it today would not exist. Kariya provided hope to a new team and fan base, and brought an electric style of play that convinced non hockey fans to come to a game. He was the captain and the first face of the franchise.

Think about this, 9000 people attended his first practice and 16000 attended his first exhibition game. Kariya built the foundation for the Ducks franchise and inspired an entire generation of kids to start watching hockey and more specifically the Ducks. Now that generation of kids are paying adults and a large portion of the fanbase.

For a short personal aside, I was born in 1991 and grew up a Ducks fan. I can remember when I got my first Ducks jersey and that the only player I wanted on it was Kariya. I was not the only one, either. All of my friends wanted the same thing. Kariya was the player kids idolized and looked up to.

The big point of contention with retiring Kariya’s number, though, is not about the stats he put up or his impact on the fan base. It is about the way he left the team. I am not going to go into the minute details of how and why he left because that is neither here nor there. All that needs to be said is that he alienated a large portion of the Ducks fan base with how it went down and some fans still hold this against him.

Personally, I do not think this should factor into the decision to retire his number. First of all, as can be seen with Vancouver retiring Pavel Bure’s number, time can heal everything. I believe a lot of the fans who were bitter at the time he left, have forgotten/forgiven/gotten over the way it happened. And secondly, the way he left has no bearing on what he did for the franchise. It does not negate all of the points he scored or change the fact that he laid the groundwork for the Ducks franchise to be what it is today or turn all of the kids, who became Ducks fans because of Kariya, suddenly into Kings fans.

Despite how he left the organization, Kariya’s impact as a Mighty Duck will forever be emblazoned in history.