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Inside the NHL | Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Cut in Pay, but No Cut in Pain

November 18, 2003|Helene Elliott

DENVER — It was there for a few brief, shining moments, that wondrous bond Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya forged while playing for the Mighty Ducks and took drastic pay cuts last summer to rekindle with the Colorado Avalanche.

A no-look pass. A dazzling rush. Gasps from enthralled fans.

"I was thinking, 'What a feeling!' " Selanne said. "Wow! It's just going to be a matter of time and boom-boom-boom."

Unfortunately, it was boom-boom-ouch.

In his second game after he'd sat out 10 games because of a sprained right wrist, Kariya was hit by Dallas' Brenden Morrow and reinjured the wrist Saturday. He won't play against the Ducks tonight at the Pepsi Center and is out indefinitely, pending results of tests he underwent Monday.

Kariya and Selanne, who signed for a combined $7 million -- $3 million less than Kariya alone earned last season -- have played six full games together. And one period Saturday, during which it seemed they'd never been apart.

"I felt unbelievable," Kariya said. "That's why it's so disappointing. We had a ton of scoring chances. But that's part of sports. The big thing now is to be ready for the playoffs. Maybe I came back a little too fast. I'll learn from my mistake."

He eagerly awaited playing against the team that had made him its first pick in its first entry draft, in 1993. The team he scored 50 goals for in 1995-96. The team he put on the map and propelled within a victory of the Stanley Cup in June, when he shook off a thunderous hit by Scott Stevens and scored the fourth goal in a 5-2 triumph in Game 6.

The team he'd said he wouldn't leave because he wanted to hoist the Cup as a Duck -- until General Manager Bryan Murray told him management couldn't justify making the $10-million offer required to keep him and asked him to take less money so the Ducks could sign him and another free agent, probably Selanne.

"I knew it was an issue when you don't qualify a guy," Murray said, "but the impression I got in the beginning was he certainly was willing to do that."

In the few days after Murray had told him there'd be no qualifying offer and July 1 arrived, Kariya's attitude changed. It surprised Selanne, who'd expected they'd both be Ducks this season.

"I would lie if I would say he wasn't hurt," Selanne said. "He won't say it, but I know. It's a pride thing. At the same time, when he decided that he wanted to go out and see what was out there, I told Paul, and he knew, it was a tough position. They had just come from the Stanley Cup final, and he had been so long as a Duck.

"I think he felt it was time to do something else, and when it came to that part, almost at the same second we said, 'Colorado.' "

Kariya insisted his pride wasn't wounded.

"I didn't have any anger toward Bryan Murray," he said. "I had nine great years there. It wasn't a situation where there was animosity, because I was an unrestricted free agent and I never thought I'd have that opportunity until I was 31. I thought I'd better look at it.

"I'm a big boy. Decisions are made all the time in professional sports, based on money, and you have to go with what decisions are made."

The day he signed with Colorado for $1.2 million -- sure to fall below the NHL average and grant him free agency again next summer -- Kariya said he and Selanne thought "we've got a terrific opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, and that's why we came here." That was curious, even considering Colorado's wealth of talent.

Colorado lost in the first round of the playoffs; the Ducks went to Game 7 of the finals. Colorado was about to lose goalie Patrick Roy to retirement; the Ducks have goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the playoff most valuable player.

It sounded like a slap at the Ducks and Coach Mike Babcock's defense-first system, under which Kariya had scored 25 goals, his fewest in a full season.

Murray certainly was stung.

"That bothered me," he said, "for the sake of Steve Rucchin and Keith Carney and guys who are here and played their hearts out."

Kariya said he meant no insult.

"It wasn't a question of this team having a better opportunity than Detroit or the Ducks or any other team, with the parity in the league," he said. "There are no guarantees in life. It was a combination of the style of play here, which is a very offensive-oriented style....

"Teemu and I talked, and for us, taking everything else out of the equation, it was a matter of where our style would fit. With [Joe] Sakic, [Milan] Hejduk, [Alex] Tanguay, [Rob] Blake, it seemed like a perfect fit. It wasn't like we were talking to five teams, and they had a high payroll, so we didn't even know if it was possible to work something out."

Colorado General Manager Pierre Lacroix was cool when Kariya and Selanne's agent, Don Baizley, called to sound him out.

"I said, 'The only way is if they can fit in our salary structure, and I doubt they will,' " Lacroix said. " 'So instead of having a bad dream, I tell you now, it's not going to work. They made $17 million last year and I have no availability.'

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