United They Stand
Free-agent buddies Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne took sizable pay cuts to play together in Colorado
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 contender too.
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."