At midnight on June 30, the deadline for teams to give qualifying
offers to their restricted free agents, Paul Kariya picked up the
phone. Because the Mighty Ducks hadn't qualified him--they would
have had to at least match Kariya's $10 million salary from last
season--the 28-year-old left wing became an unrestricted free
agent, and he wanted to talk to his best friend and fellow free
agent, Teemu Selanne. Teammates and soul mates with Anaheim from
February 1996 through March 2001, the two All-Stars had wanted to
play together again since Selanne was traded to the Sharks in
March 2001. In a conversation that stretched into the wee hours,
they brainstormed on ways to engineer a reunion.
Thirty-six hours later Kariya and Selanne, who share the same
agent, Don Baizley, were teammates again--with the Avalanche--but
their contracts won't get them on the cover of Business Week.
Kariya signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with incentives that
could bring another $500,000 or so; Selanne, who turned down a
$6.5 million option to remain in San Jose, signed a one-year,
$5.8 million contract. "We both said, 'Forget about the money,
where's the place we want to play?'" says Kariya. "Colorado
jumped out at us."
It's easy to see why, especially in Kariya's case. He was
handcuffed in the cautious defensive system that the Mighty Ducks
used to reach the Stanley Cup finals. In Colorado, playing with
Hart Trophy winner Peter Forsberg, five-time 100-plus point man
Joe Sakic and '02-03 goal-scoring champ Milan Hejduk, Kariya and
the 33-year-old Selanne join a club that tries to create scoring
chances, not stifle them. The Avalanche is a perennial Cup
Kariya can also expect to cash in next summer. By signing for
less than the NHL average ($1.79 million in '02-03), he will
become an unrestricted free agent again after the season. For
that reason his market-depressing deal hasn't sparked the
complaints one would expect. "It seems to have been accepted by
everyone," says one agent. "The idea is that he will hit a home
run next year."
COLOR PHOTO: SHELLY CASTELLANO/ICON SMI Selanne (far left) and Kariya were a dynamic scoring duo whenthey were both Ducks.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT LABERGE/GETTY IMAGES/NHLI [See caption above]