ANAHEIM — The contract stalemate between the Mighty Ducks and Paul Kariya has become a battle of wills, according to an NHL source who doesn't believe Kariya has been instructed by the players' union to hold out. Instead, the two-time all-star left wing is angry over the Ducks' take-or-leave-it offer he received about three weeks ago.
Kariya isn't necessarily disappointed by the amount of the offer, believed to be about $7 million per season, but merely the manner in which it was presented.
"He's a very strong-willed person," the source said of Kariya. "He could miss the whole season."
Apparently, Walt Disney Co. chairman Michael Eisner called Kariya to explain that there would be no further offers, that because of a significant loss by the team in defenseman David Karpa's arbitration hearing, a more lucrative deal was impossible.
"He told Paul they were worried about having enough money to pay the office personnel [including secretaries]," said the source, who spoke on the condition his name not be used. "Paul said, 'You've got to be kidding me.' "
Kariya believed Eisner's tale of economic hardship to be just another example of Disney's shortsighted financial approach.
The Ducks had hoped to pay Karpa about $600,000, but will be forced to pay him $800,000 this season and $900,000 in 1998-99. A source close to the team said the Ducks made more than $7 million last season. Disney in July reported companywide profits of $473 million for the latest quarter available.
Team president Tony Tavares several weeks ago denied that a conversation took place between Eisner and Kariya. He acknowledged they had lunch together not long after Ron Wilson was let go as coach May 20.
Other sources have indicated that Kariya also was angry over the Ducks' unwillingness to pay the going rate for a full-time masseur to travel with the team last season. The team paid the masseur such a small salary, believed to be about $15,000, Kariya offered to house him for much of the season.
"It's little things like that that have Paul so mad at Disney," the league source said.
Kariya and his Winnipeg-based agent, Don Baizley, have refused to comment on contract talks since Kariya won his second consecutive Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play in early June.
Kariya has referred all calls to Baizley, who has said he won't negotiate through the media.
Duck management, including Tavares, has maintained only a partial silence about the talks. The Duck party line since August is that Kariya's absence is a result of orders from the NHL Players Assn. to wait until Philadelphia's Eric Lindros signs a contract extension and a new market standard is set.
Duck players, such as goaltender Guy Hebert and right wing Teemu Selanne, also have suggested that by waiting Kariya is helping to raise salaries for all NHL players down the road.
Tavares, General Manager Jack Ferreira and Coach Pierre Page each have said recently that the team has made Kariya and Baizley two offers--an initial five-year, $25-million deal and the more recent $7-million-per-season offer. The length of the higher offer is not known.
But they say neither Kariya nor Baizley has made a counteroffer, and that's why there haven't been any recent talks. There evidently has been only one face-to-face meeting, in August, with Tavares and Ferreira speaking to Kariya and Baizley in Vancouver.
As the days have passed without movement, there have been recent signs that matters are beginning to turn ugly.
Kariya-related merchandise was removed from the team store at the Pond last week. A pregame highlight video of last season shown before the home opener Friday failed to include any clips of Kariya, the league's third-leading scorer with 44 goals and 99 points. Kariya's locker stall in the dressing room remains empty and the color photo of him above it has been removed.
A sellout crowd of 17,174 repeatedly chanted, "We want Paul," during Friday's 1-1 tie against the Ottawa Senators. It's been the most visible show of support for Kariya from the fans.
"I don't ask for pity or compassion," Tavares said last week. "It's an impossible situation."