The contract stalemate between the Mighty Ducks and Paul Kariya has become a battle of wills, according to an NHL source who believes Kariya has not been instructed by the players' union to hold out.
Instead, the source said the two-time all-star left wing is angry about the Ducks' take-or-leave-it offer presented to him about three weeks ago.
Kariya isn't necessarily disappointed by the amount of the offer, believed to be about $7 million a 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 more 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 only 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 and said so. A source close to the team said the Ducks made more than $7 million last season.
Team president Tony Tavares several weeks ago denied a conversation took place between Eisner and Kariya. He acknowledged they lunched together not long after Ron Wilson was let go as coach May 20.
Other sources have indicated that Kariya also was angry about the Ducks' unwillingness to pay for a full-time masseur to travel with the team last season. The team paid the masseur such a small salary, Kariya offered to house the man 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.
Duck management, including Tavares, has maintained only a partial silence. The Duck party line 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 raise salaries for all NHL players down the road.
Tavares, General Manager Jack Ferreira and Coach Pierre Page have said in recent days that the team has made Kariya and Baizley two offers--an initial five-year, $25-million deal and the more recent $7-million-a-season offer. The length of the higher offer is not known.
But they say neither Kariya nor Baizley has made a counteroffer.
There have been signs in the past few days that matters are beginning to turn ugly. Kariya-related merchandise was removed from the team store at the Pond. 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.
A sellout crowd of 17,174 repeatedly chanted, "We want Paul," during Friday's 1-1 tie against the Ottawa Senators.