In the wake of Teemu Selanne putting off the inevitable re-signing with the Ducks, there have been a rash of articles looking into the possibility of Paul Kariya rejoining the Finnish Flash in Anaheim for one last hurrah. This isn’t another one of those articles.
The part of the situation that seems much more appealing than the 35-year-old signing with his old team is that it would be a guy who’s been booed ever since he left returning to his old team. For 7 years, the former Ducks superstar has been booed every time he’s touched the puck inside The Ponda Center. Yes, the very same guy whose last home game saw him do this is booed every time he touches the puck in Orange County. To be honest, it was always something that struck me as confusing. I understand when Kariya’s getting booed at Staples Center—that much seems obvious. But in the city that he meant so much to the organization for 9 seasons, there has to be something deeper there.
The common misconception amongst booing fans at Honda Center is that he somehow screwed the Ducks after the 2003 season. He screwed the Ducks and chose to sign in Colorado with Selanne for far less and left the Ducks to hang out and dry. Would the Ducks really want to bring back that kind of guy to the organization? He’s greedy. He’s had no loyalty. That pretty much sums it up.
What that short story doesn’t tell is that it was the Ducks who chose not to offer Paul Kariya a qualifying offer, which made him a free-agent. When he was a free-agent, he took an offer with his friend to try and win a Cup. Don’t we usually applaud a player when he chooses the opportunity to win over money? What about when we see players around the league forgo extra money so they could play with one of their friends (like Saku Koivu)? Isn’t that something we usually praise as a guy who has his priorities in order? So when Paul Kariya does it, why does it make him different?
There’s one reason why this story has been twisted. Actually, there are exactly 10 million reasons in U.S. currency that twists the story. The Ducks said they couldn’t afford a one-year, $10 million contract (identical to Kariya’s contract the previous year) and instead of qualifying the offer, they declined intending to sign him at a lower price.
Let’s put this in some real-world perspective. You are very good at your job and you make a very good living. You work hard and clearly you’re at the top of your profession. You’ve been with your company as long as anyone else, you’re the face of the company, and every company in your industry would love to hire you. You make as much money as anyone else in your industry because—well, you’ve earned it.
Now imagine that your company just had the most successful year it’s ever had. They have the opportunity to bring you back at the same salary, but instead they tell you that they are going to release you from their contract—but it’s ok because they’re going to bring you back at a 30%-40% pay cut. Since you’re a loyal solider who has been there since the very beginning, you’re expected to suck it up and take the pay cut.
Am I the only would that would tell HR to take that pay cut and shove it? Because I know what it’s like for me and if someone told me I had to take a 5% pay-cut I’d be pretty pissed. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a 30% cut would be a deal breaker.
Now here’s where it gets messy. Some of the Ducks fans are pissed because he left. Others are pissed that he left to play for $1.2 million with his buddy Teemu Selanne in Colorado. Still others are upset because they were under the impression that there was a “handshake” deal where the Ducks wouldn’t qualify him, but bring him back for a lesser amount while they went out and spent money on additional players. Unfortunately, that’s simply not true. Here’s a quote from Bryan Murray less than 24 hours after cutting Kariya loose:
“Murray sounded unsure of the chances of getting Kariya to come back for next season. ‘He did not give us the right of first refusal.’ he (Murray) said. ‘He was obviously disappointed.’” –New York Times
That doesn’t exactly sound like a man who had made a handshake deal to bring a player back.
In the same article, Murray went onto say, “it’s tough financial times in our business, and we have to do some restructuring.” Those tough financial times were so difficult that the Ducks signed Sergei Fedorov to a 5-year, $40 million contract 19 days later. To recap, the Ducks organization refused to extend Kariya for one more year in the face of the impending lockout in favor of signing an outsider for 5-years and $40 million. Yeah, not exact a picture of fiscal responsibility.
Somehow, this entire story has been molded to frame Paul Kariya as the selfish, greedy villain who left the fans of Anaheim. Yes, the selfish, greedy kind of guy who took a pay-cut to try to win the Cup with his friend.
Keep in mind, Bryan Murray had so much loyalty to the Ducks that he ended up leaving after the very next season. Yet somehow, after risking the face of the franchise on the open market, roping his team into a very bad, long-term contract, and voluntarily leaving the organization, Murray gets a pass from angry fans.
Over the course of time, myths with grow into perceived truths, revisionist history can confuse, and the vocal minority can turn into the uninformed majority. Try to keep that in mind next time you hear a fan talk about Paul Kariya and the way he left Anaheim. It’s not as black-and-white as they might have you believe.