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Goal Oriented
Michael Farber
December 22, 1997
Paul Kariya's storybook return buoyed the Ducks and may boost the fortunes of other NHL stars
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December 22, 1997

Goal Oriented

Paul Kariya's storybook return buoyed the Ducks and may boost the fortunes of other NHL stars

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The only obvious determination of Kariya's fair value, at least to Baizley, was what the market would pay for the restricted free agent, though the market didn't seem interested. The Ducks let it be known they would match any offer sheet to Kariya, whose sharply defined notion of propriety was offended by Anaheim's willingness to pay him one amount if there were suitors but considerably less if there weren't. The only way Baizley might move the market would be to have Kariya make it clear that he no longer would play for the Ducks.

As Kariya sat down to dinner in a Calgary restaurant on Dec. 8, he figured his career in Anaheim might be history. The blinds were being drawn over a final window of opportunity—Kariya had decided that if he boarded a flight to Zurich with the Canadian national team the following Monday, the season was gone—and he was going through the emotional and intellectual preparation of severing the ties. This was tough on Kariya, who visited the Ducks when they played in his hometown of Vancouver on Nov. 8. Kariya was close to his teammates, especially linemate Teemu Selanne, with whom he had spoken several times a week. Cutting the umbilical cord would be far more difficult than cut-ling into the lemon pepper chicken at a Calgary steak house.

Baizley spoke with general manager Jack Ferreira late on Dec. 9, an eerily civil conversation, one devoid of the tension deadlines usually engender. Then, at 5 p.m. the next day, Baizley faxed five proposals to the team—all for two- or three-year deals. Three hours later, the battle of not only wills but also philosophies was over. After Eisner approved the deal, Ferreira walked into the dressing room during the second intermission of a 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins to break the news. "There was a team bear hug," says Ferreira. "Teemu came up and shook my hand. He called Paul from the room. You couldn't wipe the smile off his face."

Kariya can certainly light it up—goalies and teammates' faces. After eight lung-burning, two-hour sessions with Team Canada, with which he had skated the previous week, and one practice with Anaheim, Kariya hardly looked like someone who hadn't played a game since May 8. He was on the ice for more than 27 minutes against the Capitals. He tied a team record with seven shots in the second period. He knotted the game 4-4 on a backhander after he seemed to lose the puck, and he finished off Washington with 7.1 seconds left on a spin-o-rama shot from the Ducks' blue line into a vacant cage. "I guess it was all that practice by myself shooting at empty nets," Kariya said afterward.

"His first shift was uneventful," Tavares says. "The second shift, you could say he was amazing, just unbelievable. His third shift, you started saying, 'Wow.' I thought he electrified the building. There's been some energy in the building when we've won, but in my mind, nothing like this."

So our story ends happily, boys and girls. Kariya gets a lot of money, short-term. The Ducks get their star back, and Disney probably won't have to make more than one or two direct-to-video movies to recoup the expense. Fans can don their number 9 Kariya sweaters again. NHL general managers cringe, but hockey seems a little brighter. See you real soon.

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