Paul Kariya was a Freaking Beast

Perusing hockey-reference.com (a strong indicator of how I spend my free time), I happened upon the career stats for Paul Kariya, former NHL All-Star and dramatic actor (The Mighty Ducks 3, 1998).

I always appreciated Paul because he was drafted to the most atrociously-conceived team in professional sports (a team in burgundy and teal based upon a marginally-successful Disney movie? Playing in the world’s most testosterone-fueled and vicious team sport???), and was pretty much single-handily asked to drag the team to respectability.

Here is a snap-shot in NHL hockey time: during the mid-late 1990s, the dreaded neutral-zone trap started to completely pervade the sport. Additionally, the separation between the Haves and the Have-Nots was increasing by the week; deep-pocketed teams like the Red Wings and the Avalanche were able to pilfer talent from the poor teams because of the economics of the pre-Lockout NHL (circumstances which almost destroyed, among other teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins). The League was getting further and further away from all the positive momentum it created on the crux of the 1993 and 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, in which Wayne Gretzky’s Kings and Mark Messier’s New York Rangers each made  Cup Finals appearances.

Coming out of the 1994-95 NHL work stoppage,  the on-ice product was getting murkier and less entertaining, and the skewed economics were turning the League into a six or eight-team showcase. The League’s under-funded teams typically had to Trap or play otherwise-stifling defensive systems just to compete with the arms races happening in Detroit, Colorado, and Dallas.

In a totally unfair league, the underdog Mighty Ducks of Anaheim managed to sneak into the playoff a handful of times, even if they would be unceremoniously bounced shortly after arriving.  They were able to do this on the backs of their two all-world players: “The Finnish Flash”, future-Hall-of-Fame Right Wing Teemu Selanne, and his good buddy Paul Kariya.

Though he got his due briefly during his heyday, in retrospect Kariya is even more impressive. Check out his Juniors and college stats:

Season Age Team Lg GP G A PTS GC +/- PIM EV PP SH GW S S% TOI ATOI
1990-91 16 Penticton Panthers BCJHL 54 45 67 112 8
1990-91 16 Canada U-18 5 4 8 12 2
1991-92 17 Penticton Panthers BCJHL 40 46 86 132 18
1991-92 17 Canada WJC-A 6 1 1 2 2
1992-93 18 University of Maine H-East 39 25 75 100 12
1992-93 18 Canada WJC-A 7 2 6 8 2
1992-93 18 Canada WC-A 8 2 7 9 0
1993-94 19 University of Maine H-East 12 8 16 24 4

100 points in 39 games? Are you fucking with me?

Sure, lots of NHLers had outstanding Junior careers; it’s almost a prerequisite. But college hockey is much more collective talent-wise and tight-checking; the skill level is much more evenly distributed, and most teams run rigid systems. To have 100 points in a college season is positively superb. Following that up with a 2-point-per-game binge the next season, and Paul must have basically been told by his NCAA rivals, “You’re too fucking good for college hockey, just go to the NHL and leave us alone, Mister, please.”

As I wrote earlier, Paul was forced at a very young age to carry an expansion team largely devoid of support personnel. Go back and look at some of those late-90s/early 2000s Ducks’ rosters and cringe (though make sure you check out Coach Disco’s player profile). The fact that Paul managed to get the Ducks into the playoffs three times in seven years is a credit to his ability to break open games.

Here are the stats from his Ducks’ Career:

Season Age Tm Lg GP G A PTS GC +/- PIM EV PP SH GW S S% TOI ATOI
1994-95 20 MDA NHL 47 18 21 39 15 -17 4 10 7 1 3 134 13.4
1995-96 21 MDA NHL 82 50 58 108 42 9 20 27 20 3 9 349 14.3
1996-97 22 MDA NHL 69 44 55 99 39 36 6 26 15 3 10 340 12.9
1997-98 23 MDA NHL 22 17 14 31 14 12 23 14 3 0 2 103 16.5
1998-99 24 MDA NHL 82 39 62 101 39 17 40 26 11 2 4 429 9.1 2094 25:32
1999-00 25 MDA NHL 74 42 44 86 34 22 24 28 11 3 3 324 13.0 1803 24:22
2000-01 26 MDA NHL 66 33 34 67 27 -9 20 12 18 3 3 230 14.3 1520 23:02
2001-02 27 MDA NHL 82 32 25 57 24 -15 28 21 11 0 8 289 11.1 1822 22:13
2002-03 28 MDA NHL 82 25 56 81 28 -3 48 13 11 1 2 257 9.7 1664 20:17

If you throw out his rookie season (playing on a truly foul expansion team) and ’01-02 (in which he was clearly fighting an injury or his coach, or both), Paul had at least a point per game every season. This was right in the middle of the Trap Era, when he had three neanderthals sticking him in the nuts every shift and Scott Stevens trying to DDT him every time they met.

You may laugh, but his closest comparable statistically was Jaromir Jagr, and Jagr had a lot more support. He certainly was the focal point of the Penguins’ offense, but he always had some combination of Marty Straka, Alex Kovalev, Ron Francis, and Emperor Mario Lemieux to lean on. The Ducks had Paul, Teemu, an above-average goalie in Guy Hebert, and fuck-nothing.

To spite him further, his buddy Teemu dipped for San Jose after the ’99-00 Season. How does one rack up 50+ assists passing primarily to Gary Vaulk, Steve Rucchin, and Oleg Tverdovsky?

Furthermore, this has to be one of the best sequences in the history of the sport:

Seriously, that was fucking Awesome.

As I write this, Paul has 989 points in 989 games. Selfishly, I would have liked to see him sign a one-year deal with the Ducks, eclipse 1,000 points, and finish his career skating on Anaheim’s “2nd line” with Teemu. It sucks that his Hall-of-Fame case is somewhat hurt by injuries and the fact he did not get to spend a lot of time in the playoffs (’02-03 excluded). It is not Kariya’s fault a crap team drafted him, and he certainly did his part to drag his teams to respectability.

Hockey-Reference has Paul ranked as the 63rd best player of all-time, right after Brian Leetch and tied with Luc Robitaille. I think that is about right, and that’s some impressive fucking company. Brian is the greatest American defenseman of all-time, and Luc is the highest scoring Left Wing of all-time. If you want to talk about how tragic the consequences of concussions are, look at Paul Kariya. The man was a freaking beast.

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About sfarrell11000
All over the place

2 Responses to Paul Kariya was a Freaking Beast

  1. Pingback: The All-Time NHL Legends Respectability List (and a Final Word on Jaromir Jagr) « jack_has_spoken

  2. Pingback: #85: America Does it Right (or “Jack Loves America”) | Jack_Has_Spoken

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