The Mighty Ducks' home opener Friday was dominated by a tireless, fearless team of dedicated warriors:
The Disney people charged with making us forget about holdout Paul Kariya.
So inspiring and entertaining was their work, you thought, who needs Kariya?
First, they carefully removed sweaters and souvenirs bearing his name from the Pond team store. Not to be accused of playing favorites, they removed sweaters with everyone's name.
Then, they painstakingly edited Kariya out of every scoreboard highlight film. This left the casual fan with the impression that every goal last season was scored by Joe Sacco.
Problem is, with the recent success around here, there are no more casual fans.
And as of yet, Disney has not acquired the worldwide rights to cut out tongues.
They showed up wearing jerseys with the word, "Sign" printed in black tape above the name "Kariya."
They began shouting for their hero with 9:26 remaining.
That is, 9:26 remaining in pre-game warmups.
When the video folks made their first mistake of playing a chanting video in the second period, the chorus revved up to 17,174 strong.
"We want Paul," they shouted, and they aren't alone.
"We want Paul back in the biggest way, he's the key," admitted veteran Warren Rychel before the game. "With him, we have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. Without him, it will be hard."
Yeah, but they haven't been distracted while waiting for perhaps the best young player in the game, right?
"First we thought, yeah, he'll show up on the first day of training camp," Rychel said. "Then the joke was, he'll be on the plane to Japan. Then we thought, well, maybe he'll walk in the locker room for the home opener today. . . .
"Now, the days just keep multiplying. Knowing Paul's strong convictions, he might just sit out the whole year."
Sit out the whole what?
Disney didn't need to witness the Ducks' awfully boring 1-1 tie with the Ottawa Senators to understand what has not been quite so clear until now.
The Paul Kariya affair can become a Ron Wilson affair, only worse. By firing fan favorite Wilson, they lost only respect (yes, new Coach Pierre Page was booed Friday).
Without Kariya, they will also lose games.
No, the Kariya problem is not all their fault. But the public only understands what is on the ice. And without Kariya, the Ducks look like a guy on one skate.
The best parts of Friday's game were watching David Karpa start fights. The power play was a mess. Teemu Selanne wandered around as if lost on a frozen tundra.
When the fans weren't chanting for Kariya, they were booing the guys he left behind.
"Let's be honest," Rychel said. "I can't sit here and tell you that a bunch of guys are going to go crazy and score a bunch of goals."
While Rychel spoke Friday morning, Ottawa's best player, Daniel Alfredsson, also was holding out. Only, he was doing it outside the Senators' dressing room, carrying his equipment and waiting to sign.
This is not Kariya. This is the problem.
Kariya is in Vancouver. His agent, Don Baizley, is in Winnipeg. They have met with the Ducks only once in five months, and have yet to make even a counteroffer to the $7 million a year presented by Disney.
There are charges that Kariya is a union pawn, and has been asked to wait until Philadelphia's Eric Lindros sets the market with a contract extension.
This makes sense, considering Kariya's agent has shown incredibly little concern about putting Kariya back in uniform.
It also makes sense that Kariya, using his only leverage as as restricted free agent, is acting like a pouting 22-year-old who should count his blessings and his $7 million.
That salary was recently given by the Colorado Avalanche to Joe Sakic, who was Stanley Cup MVP only two seasons ago.
Uh, what has Kariya ever won?
But unfortunately for Disney, nothing makes more sense than this: This is a fight they cannot win.
The Lakers could not overpay Magic Johnson.
The Dodgers cannot overpay Mike Piazza.
Disney cannot overpay Paul Kariya.
Fail to realize this, and Disney loses not only fans, but players who are already being asked to swallow a coaching change that many felt was unnecessary.
Disney must realize, in hockey, there is the Real World, and there is the Dressing Room.
In the Real World, a player who tries to dislodge an opponent's head with a 60-inch stick is a criminal. In the Dressing Room, he is a hero.
In the Real World, Paul Kariya is an arrogant imbecile. In the Dressing Room, he is Cesar Chavez.
"We stand behind Paul, with Paul," Karpa said. "We understand what he is going through, and we back him 100%."
Even if Disney is right, they will be perceived as wrong. The Tony Phillips battle was a noble one. This is not.
Make Kariya an offer he can't refuse. Let him sit out the season if he does.
Aren't there 23 other guys you can stick it to?