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Selanne Feels Kariya's Pain

Hockey: Ducks' star says unsigned free agent is 'bleeding' and that he worries he will leave to play in Europe.

December 10, 1997|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unsigned free agent Paul Kariya has become so upset over his contract stalemate with the Mighty Ducks he is "bleeding" and considering playing in Europe, teammate Teemu Selanne said Tuesday.

"I'm so, so, so worried," Selanne said. "I know Paul and I know it's going to come to a point when he's going to say, 'I don't care about the money. I'm not going to play with those guys. I'd rather retire or play in Europe for the rest of my life.'

"He thinks the team doesn't want to compete, that they don't want to win."

Selanne said he often wonders the same thing.

"Every day it's in my mind, 'What is going to happen with this team?' " he said. "Two weeks ago, I was so optimistic Paul was going to come back here any day. About 10 days ago, my feelings changed.

"I can say he's bleeding. He's pretty hurt. His emotions are so strong. I've tried to remind him it's just a business. [But] it's going to come to a point where he's going to take it even more personally."

The Ducks have offered Kariya a seven-year, $49-million contract. Kariya wants a three-year deal that would pay him $8 million this season, $9 million in 1998-99 and $10 million in 1999-2000.

Selanne indicated there was more to the stalled talks than money and length of the contract, but would not elaborate.

Kariya, 23, will be a restricted free agent until he turns 31. The Ducks have the right to match any offer to Kariya from another team. So far, there have been none.

The Ducks also could trade Kariya, but so far they have dismissed that idea, publicly. Kariya has not asked for a trade.

In an interview last week, he said, "I'd like to play [in Anaheim], but . . . it's hard. It's been a nightmare at times."

Neither Kariya nor his agent Don Baizley could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Selanne's concerns began to increase as Kariya prepared to join the Calgary-based Canadian national team to start preparations for the Winter Olympics in Japan in February. Selanne started to speak more regularly with Baizley, who also is his agent.

Kariya, the NHL's third-leading scorer last season with 44 goals and 99 points, plans to play and practice with the Canadian nationals until early January and perhaps longer. The Olympic tournament begins Feb. 7.

"I became really worried about 10 days ago," Selanne said. "I knew he missed [hockey]. I knew he doesn't miss the NHL or the paychecks, but he missed the game. Now that he's playing with the Canadian national team, there's going to come a point where he says, 'If we can't make a deal, then I don't want to play for this team.' "

Asked if he believed Kariya would soon ask to be traded, Selanne said, "If nothing's going to happen pretty soon [about a new contract], that's what's going to happen."

Selanne said he has tried to calm Kariya during frequent telephone conversations.

"I understand his feelings 100%," Selanne said. "That's why I call him so often, to keep him loose and to talk about other things."

Selanne said he has called on Kariya to become more open with reporters about his feelings. But Kariya hasn't been willing to vent his frustrations. In fact, the interview last week in Calgary was his first conversation since June with the writers who cover the team.

"I think he should come out and tell everyone how he feels, but he doesn't want to put any pressure on himself or Disney," Selanne said.

Duck Coach Pierre Page cringed when told of Selanne's comments.

"You can't let yourself get involved with someone else's negotiations," Page said. "It's too painful. All you can do is hope the people involved keep trying to find solutions. If people start telling you there's no solutions that's . . . "

Page said some of Monday's post-practice meeting concerned Kariya.

"I told the players, 'What do you want me to say when they ask about Kariya? Because it's the first question I'm asked in every city,' " Page said.

The players suggested he say, "No comment," but Page said that's not his style. The players also suggested he say Kariya's absence is a "non-issue."

Said Page, "I said, 'OK, then we can't let it drag us down anymore.' Because if we don't make it a non-issue, it's going to start to affect [Selanne]."

Selanne leads the NHL with 24 goals, but has taken a mental and physical beating as opponents focus their defensive efforts on stopping him by any means necessary. Often, it means Selanne is held, hooked, speared and punched.

Teams know if Selanne is held without a goal, the Ducks will be easier to defeat. After all, Tomas Sandstrom is second on the team with only six goals.

"My job is to show up and play whether [Kariya] is here or not," Selanne said. "The way other teams play against me is so tough physically. But also when we're down a couple of goals it's hard for me mentally."

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