Not So Mighty
For the dismal Ducks, the Paul Kariya- Teemu Selanne era has ended
On Feb. 7, 1996, when the Mighty Ducks were only 3� seasons old and possessed little more than preternaturally talented left wing Paul Kariya, they acquired star right wing Teemu Selanne from the Winnipeg jets. General manager Jack Ferreira crowed, "I knew we'd do it! We stepped up!" Coach Ron Wilson exulted, "Our players are excited as anything, and I just became about 20 percent smarter as a coach." Selanne fantasized about "playing in a sold-out building with Kariya and living where the sun shines."
The next season Anaheim advanced to the second round of the playoffs as Selanne (51 regular-season goals) and Kariya (44) each scored four times in a seven-game upset of the Coyotes. That was the last time the Ducks were mighty. Though Selanne and Kariya continued to rack up goals and points over the next few seasons, Anaheim reached the playoffs only once more—in 1999, when it was swept by the Red Wings.
These are especially dark days for the Ducks, and through Sunday they were 21-35-8-5 and had played before thousands of empty seats at home. On March 5, when the 30-year-old Selanne was traded to the Sharks for speedy left wing Jeff Friesen, 24, and backup goal-tender Steve Shields, an era ended. "We came to a crossroads; we had to decide whether to keep an older player at a high price," says Anaheim president Pierre Gauthier, who also replaced Ferreira as general manager in the summer of 1998. "Having Kariya and Selanne so early in the club's history created unrealistic expectations."
Those expectations were heightened by the huge sums Anaheim paid them. Kariya ($10 million) and Selanne ($8 million) accounted for nearly half the Ducks' 2000-01 payroll, a budgeting strategy that Gauthier concedes "made no sense." What has made even less sense were many of Anaheim's personnel moves since that one taste of playoff success. Wilson, a first-rate coach, was fired after the 1996-97 season because he clashed with Ducks governor Tony Tavares. Plus, neither Ferreira nor Gauthier could assemble a strong cast around their stars. Anaheim's lack of depth was exposed by the injuries that limited Kariya to 22 games in 1997-98 (concussion) and sidelined him for 16 this season (broken foot).
Gauthier, who built a superb team when he was the Senators' G.M. from 1995-96 through 1997-98, has turned over more than two thirds of the roster during his Anaheim reign, but to little benefit His prized free-agent signing last summer, center German Titov, had only seven goals and nine assists in 58 games.
While some observers close to the front office say Tavares's meddling creates instability, Gauthier insists that he has autonomy in making personnel decisions and that he and Tavares are "the best of friends." Of course, Gauthier's office could be known as the home of the whopper. In June 1998 he swore he wasn't leaving the Senators and then departed for Anaheim 2� weeks later. In July 1998 he said he wouldn't replace Ferreira and then did so within five weeks. Early this season Gauthier said he wouldn't fire coach Craig Hartsburg and then fired him on Dec. 14. He also said he wouldn't deal Selanne.
"Things change and you have to change too," says Gauthier. "Teemu's gone, but we're building something. We've just got to have patience."
Hlinka-Suhonen Report Card
Assessing Their Rookie Seasons
The Penguins' Ivan Hlinka and the Blackhawks' Alpo Suhonen made history together this season as the first European head coaches in the NHL, but aside from that link their debuts have had little in common. Hlinka, a Czech whose only NHL experience had been as a Pittsburgh assistant for the final 24 games of last season, has left most tactical decisions to his players, while Suhonen, a Finn who had spent a total of four seasons as an assistant with the Winnipeg Jets and the Maple Leafs, has gently imposed his puck-moving style on his rebuilding team.