The Mighty Ducks, learning from a past mistake, wasted no time in coming to terms with Paul Kariya, announcing Wednesday they had signed the all-star left winger to a three-year contract, believed to be worth $30 million.
Kariya joins Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr, Colorado's Peter Forsberg and Detroit's Sergei Fedorov as next season's highest-paid players. Sources say Kariya will make $10 million next season, which includes a signing bonus, and $10 million in each of the next two seasons.
"It caught me off guard how quickly it ended up getting done," said Kariya, who is recovering from a broken right foot, suffered in Game 3 of the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings.
"This is done, so now I can move on to the next thing, which is to improve and help our team win games. I'm at the point where I do not have a financial need. I don't have to worry about things that can take focus away from what you need to do."
Two years ago, negotiations with the Ducks dragged on six months and Kariya sat out the first 32 games of the 1997-98 season.
Duck General Manager Pierre Gauthier met with Kariya at the end of the season and talked with Don Baizley, Kariya's agent, the night before the June 19 draft.
"I can't speak about what went on two years ago, because I wasn't here," Gauthier said. "Don and I found we weren't that far apart so we decided to accelerate the process."
It helped that the market value had been established. Forsberg, also represented by Baizley, signed a three-year, $30-million deal in April and will be paid $9 million next season.
Next season, Jagr will make $10.5 million and Fedorov $10 million. Philadelphia's Eric Lindros signed a one-year, $8.5-million contract Wednesday. Buffalo's Dominik Hasek will be the highest-paid goalie at $8 million.
Free agent Theo Fleury, whose contract talks with Colorado broke down because the Avalanche would not include a no-trade clause, is reportedly close to signing with the New York Rangers for $9 million.
"Basically, this time, everything was there in front of Pierre and Don," Kariya said. "There was no feeling that the Ducks could hurt other teams or that I could hurt other players."
The timing was also right.
The free-agent period begins today, and other teams could have made offers to Kariya, a restricted free agent. Although the Ducks could match any offer, Gauthier saw a quick deal as a chance to send a message to Duck fans.
The team incurred the blame during Kariya's last contract negotiations--especially since the two-year, $14-million deal he received was close to what he had been asking for--and attendance was off sharply last season.
Gauthier said that season-ticket renewals are up, but perceptions did matter. Kariya's signing and the draft-day trade that brought defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky from Phoenix could temper anger over the Ducks raising ticket prices again.
"There was a need to get this done," Gauthier said. "We were going to match any offer, but there is always that slight chance another team would sign him. We wanted the fans to know that Paul was here and we were moving forward."
Kariya had 39 goals and finished third in the NHL with 101 points last season. The Ducks reached the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, but were swept by the Red Wings in the first round. Kariya sat out the final game because of a broken foot.
He reestablished himself as one of the top players in the league, after being slowed by the contract fight and injury the previous season. Kariya played in 22 games in 1997-98, then suffered a concussion and sat out the remainder of the season because of post-concussion syndrome.
"I think after the contract last time and the injury, I've better perspective," Kariya said. "I think I've learned a little from [linemate and right wing] Teemu [Selanne] that you have to have some fun.
"Now I can get on with my summer. I can prepare for the season. When three years are up, I hope we will have been in the Stanley Cup finals and won a cup."
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TOP NHL SALARIES (for 1999-2000)
1. Jaromir Jagr: Pittsburgh Penguins / $10.5 million
2. Paul Kariya: Mighty Ducks / $10 million
3. Peter Forsberg: Colorado Avalanche / $10 million
4. Eric Lindros: Philadelphia Flyers / $8.5 million
5. Dominik Hasek: Buffalo Sabres / $8 million
OTHER TOP L.A. SALARIES (average per year)
LAKERS: Shaquille O'Neal / $17.33 million
DODGERS: Kevin Brown / $15 million
ANGELS: Mo Vaughn / $13.33 million
KINGS: Rob Blake / $5.3 million