Certainly there is pity in hockey circles, especially in Canada, for Kariya's situation. David Shoalts, a writer for a Toronto paper, referred to the Ducks as "Paul Kariya and 19 guys who have to bribe family members every October to take them in their hockey pools." Similar opinions have been expressed.
There is little doubt that in a big-time hockey town, Kariya would be NHL royalty.
"I'm sure he would get more publicity," one NHL official said. "He is one of the top five or six players in the league. There is only one thing left for him to do, challenge for the Stanley Cup. He has done everything a player can do, except win the cup."
And that may be several five-year plans away in Anaheim. Kariya, at 26, is still young, but he may not have \o7 that \f7 kind of time.
He is in the last year of a three-year, $30-million contract and will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Ducks have the right to match any offer. Gauthier has said, repeatedly, that he will not let Kariya go. Of course, Gauthier also said he would not trade Selanne.
The Ducks have trimmed their payroll in the last two seasons. A financially fat team dangling a wad of cash at Kariya is a possibility--Lindros and Kariya playing for the Rangers?
But the Ducks' advantage in such a bidding war is Kariya. He remains loyal to the franchise, more so than the Disney ownership, according to some hockey officials. He has not once criticized management.
His focus, he has said repeatedly, is on the ice.
"To me, he is just a really, really competitive guy and wants some recognition," Murray said. "But he wants that recognition for what the team does. He wants the team recognition because of winning more than he wants awards."
Kariya may have to settle for the Olympics when it comes to winning this season.
An ugly cross-checking incident by then-Chicago Blackhawk Gary Suter just before the 1998 Olympics kept Kariya out of the games. Canada went without a medal when the country believed that with Kariya wearing the maple leaf logo, a medal was a given.
In 1994, Canada, with Kariya, had won the silver. They lost in the gold-medal shootout to Sweden and Peter Forsberg, who scored after Kariya's shot had been stopped by goalie Tommy Salo.
"We tied the game and lost the skills competition," Kariya said. "I've said many times that being in the Olympics was the greatest experience or tournament I've been a part of as a hockey player. I missed it in 1998 and that was probably the biggest disappointment of my career."
Or maybe it's just that he has become used to the other disappointments.
There is a lot Jagr, Lindros, Bure and Kariya have in common. Whereas Gretzky, Howe and Lemieux have 10 Stanley Cups among them, the next generation has two. Both won by Jagr. Both won in Lemieux's shadow with Pittsburgh.
"You can have a great year individually, and I've done that, and the team doesn't do well," Kariya said. "Even if you make the playoffs, it's empty at the end until you win your last game in the playoffs. You really can't judge yourself as having a successful season until you win that last game."