After more than six months without apparent progress, a new two-year, $14-million contract for winger Paul Kariya finally came together in a flurry of activity in the hours before and during the Mighty Ducks' game Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Don Baizley, Kariya's agent, telephoned Duck President Tony Tavares at about 5 p.m. and they spoke several times in the next few hours.
By the end of the first period, at about 8:30, General Manager Jack Ferreira entered the dressing room to tell the players Kariya had agreed to a two-year deal that will pay him $5.5 million this season and $8.5 million in 1998-99.
About $2 million of Kariya's salary this season will be donated to charities in Orange County.
Teemu Selanne rose from his locker to shake Ferreira's hand, then went to call Kariya at his parents' home in North Vancouver, Canada. When the game resumed, Selanne broke the news to the Penguin players, referee Rob Shick, the timekeeper and the officials in the penalty box.
In the end, the sudden urgency to re-sign Kariya was triggered by his anticipated departure Monday for two tournaments in Switzerland with the Canadian national team as part of his preparation for the Olympics in February.
"My sense in the last few days was that there was a realization by both parties that we were very close to having Paul not play in the NHL this season," Baizley said. "No question, looking back to the weekend, things were looking pretty bleak. Obviously, at some point, we would have had to make the determination that Paul would have had to leave the Ducks.
"Clearly, it was a last resort and we hadn't reached that point. But we were getting there."
Kariya put it this way, "If I had gone to Switzerland, my focus would have been totally on the Olympics. I just felt it was time to give it one more kick at the can."
The Ducks also sensed the need to take one last stab at securing a new deal for the all-star winger before Monday.
"There were several proposals on the table at the time and we said, 'Let's take one of these because he's going to go to the Olympics and might not play for us this season,' " Ferreira said.
So, Kariya will skate tonight against the Washington Capitals with his old linemates, Selanne and Steve Rucchin. And Selanne will gladly return the captaincy of the Ducks to Kariya for a little help in carrying the offensive load.
Selanne has gone almost solo this season. He leads the NHL with 24 goals, but the Ducks have a total of only 70, fourth-fewest in the league.
Last season, Selanne and Kariya were the NHL's top one-two scoring combination. Selanne had 51 goals and 109 points, second in the league. Kariya was the league's third-leading scorer with 44 goals and 99 points.
"Probably the only guy happier today than Paul is Teemu," Baizley joked Thursday.
"If you look at our lineup, we don't have so much depth," Selanne said. "I think overall I'm happy with how we've played. But the last few weeks we've fallen apart. This is just the boost we need right now. This is a great day for hockey. Now everything is great."
Selanne's comments Thursday were in stark contrast to his gloomy forecast Tuesday that Kariya might jump to a European team because of his unhappiness over the ongoing contract stalemate.
Kariya's immediate task could prove to be more difficult than wrestling management over a new deal. After all, he has been asked to put the Ducks back on the right track. After a start in which they were once three games above .500 without him, they have slumped to a 3-10-2 record in the last 15 games.
Although he has not played in a game since the Ducks' overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the deciding Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals May 8, Kariya said he is fit.
Since joining the Calgary-based Canadian national team Dec. 1, he has practiced for two hours each morning. He also has lifted weights and used a stationary bicycle to augment his workouts.
Certainly, he looked ready to play tonight against the Capitals and his former coach, Ron Wilson, who makes his return to the Pond.
Kariya was the last player on the ice to start practice Thursday. Defenseman J.J. Daigneault said a few words of encouragement to him, then smacked him on the rear end with his stick.
Selanne then skated past and asked playfully, "Hey, who are you?" Both laughed and embraced.
"I would have liked to have been here at the start," Kariya said. "I don't know why it took so long, but again that's in the past. It's time to move forward. No one wins in these situations. [But] I'm happy to be here. Jack's happy I'm here."
Kariya was asked if there was anything he would like to say directly to the fans, whose anger has been expressed during frequent, "We want Paul," chants during home games.