Cut in Pay, but No Cut in Pain

It was there for a few brief, shining moments, that wondrous bond Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya forged while playing for the Mighty Ducks and took drastic pay cuts last summer to rekindle with the Colorado Avalanche.

A no-look pass. A dazzling rush. Gasps from enthralled fans.

"I was thinking, 'What a feeling!' " Selanne said. "Wow! It's just going to be a matter of time and boom-boom-boom."

Unfortunately, it was boom-boom-ouch.

In his second game after he'd sat out 10 games because of a sprained right wrist, Kariya was hit by Dallas' Brenden Morrow and reinjured the wrist Saturday. He won't play against the Ducks tonight at the Pepsi Center and is out indefinitely, pending results of tests he underwent Monday.

Kariya and Selanne, who signed for a combined $7 million -- $3 million less than Kariya alone earned last season -- have played six full games together. And one period Saturday, during which it seemed they'd never been apart.

"I felt unbelievable," Kariya said. "That's why it's so disappointing. We had a ton of scoring chances. But that's part of sports. The big thing now is to be ready for the playoffs. Maybe I came back a little too fast. I'll learn from my mistake."

He eagerly awaited playing against the team that had made him its first pick in its first entry draft, in 1993. The team he scored 50 goals for in 1995-96. The team he put on the map and propelled within a victory of the Stanley Cup in June, when he shook off a thunderous hit by Scott Stevens and scored the fourth goal in a 5-2 triumph in Game 6.

The team he'd said he wouldn't leave because he wanted to hoist the Cup as a Duck -- until General Manager Bryan Murray told him management couldn't justify making the $10-million offer required to keep him and asked him to take less money so the Ducks could sign him and another free agent, probably Selanne.

"I knew it was an issue when you don't qualify a guy," Murray said, "but the impression I got in the beginning was he certainly was willing to do that."

In the few days after Murray had told him there'd be no qualifying offer and July 1 arrived, Kariya's attitude changed. It surprised Selanne, who'd expected they'd both be Ducks this season.

"I would lie if I would say he wasn't hurt," Selanne said. "He won't say it, but I know. It's a pride thing. At the same time, when he decided that he wanted to go out and see what was out there, I told Paul, and he knew, it was a tough position. They had just come from the Stanley Cup final, and he had been so long as a Duck.

"I think he felt it was time to do something else, and when it came to that part, almost at the same second we said, 'Colorado.' "

Kariya insisted his pride wasn't wounded.

"I didn't have any anger toward Bryan Murray," he said. "I had nine great years there. It wasn't a situation where there was animosity, because I was an unrestricted free agent and I never thought I'd have that opportunity until I was 31. I thought I'd better look at it.

"I'm a big boy. Decisions are made all the time in professional sports, based on money, and you have to go with what decisions are made."

The day he signed with Colorado for $1.2 million -- sure to fall below the NHL average and grant him free agency again next summer -- Kariya said he and Selanne thought "we've got a terrific opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, and that's why we came here." That was curious, even considering Colorado's wealth of talent.

Colorado lost in the first round of the playoffs; the Ducks went to Game 7 of the finals. Colorado was about to lose goalie Patrick Roy to retirement; the Ducks have goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the playoff most valuable player.

It sounded like a slap at the Ducks and Coach Mike Babcock's defense-first system, under which Kariya had scored 25 goals, his fewest in a full season.

Murray certainly was stung.

"That bothered me," he said, "for the sake of Steve Rucchin and Keith Carney and guys who are here and played their hearts out."

Kariya said he meant no insult.

"It wasn't a question of this team having a better opportunity than Detroit or the Ducks or any other team, with the parity in the league," he said. "There are no guarantees in life. It was a combination of the style of play here, which is a very offensive-oriented style....

"Teemu and I talked, and for us, taking everything else out of the equation, it was a matter of where our style would fit. With [Joe] Sakic, [Milan] Hejduk, [Alex] Tanguay, [Rob] Blake, it seemed like a perfect fit. It wasn't like we were talking to five teams, and they had a high payroll, so we didn't even know if it was possible to work something out."

Colorado General Manager Pierre Lacroix was cool when Kariya and Selanne's agent, Don Baizley, called to sound him out.

"I said, 'The only way is if they can fit in our salary structure, and I doubt they will,' " Lacroix said. " 'So instead of having a bad dream, I tell you now, it's not going to work. They made $17 million last year and I have no availability.'

"This goes for 32 hours. At the end he says, 'Here's what I'm proposing. If you don't take it, I'm going to call a doctor because you need help.' "

Lacroix took it. He believes it will work out, even though injuries to Kariya, Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg have kept the Avalanche from having a complete roster.

"There's no doubt, from the exhibition games and the games Paul played, that he gives us a chance to see probably two of the most skilled trios in the game right now," Lacroix said of the Kariya-Sakic-Selanne line and the Tanguay-Forsberg-Hejduk line. "It smells good for the rest of the year."

But Murray wonders how much Kariya will be able to play the open game he loves. Murray has heard Kariya left because he felt shackled by defensive duties, and he suspects Kariya might be in for a jolt as the playoffs approach.

"When we have the puck, our guys are able to do what they want," Murray said. "When they don't have it, we've asked them to be responsible. I guarantee you, as we get into the year, Colorado will do the same thing. They have to if they're going to win."

Kariya, for his part, has no regrets and only fond memories of his days in purple and teal.

"Last year's run to the Cup was a highlight," he said. "We surprised a lot of people last year. It was a great run, especially for the guys who had been there awhile. The playoffs of '97 were great too.... It certainly would have been a fun game [tonight] against old friends."


Slap Shots

In his fifth season of retirement, Wayne Gretzky finally felt ready to reminisce in a DVD released today, "NHL Ultimate Gretzky."

His favorite parts are rare footage of his first goal with Indianapolis of the World Hockey Assn. and a goal he scored at the 1977 World Junior tournament.

"It was fun and exciting to do," he said. "Selfishly, I think my family and friends will enjoy it."

Gretzky, 42, has been working out to prepare for a game between former Oilers and Canadiens that will precede Saturday's "Heritage Classic" outdoor game at Edmonton between the current Oilers and Canadiens.

"I hope people aren't expecting a 22-year-old Wayne Gretzky," he said.

He's also hoping there's truth to rumors that Mark Messier, still active with the Rangers, will play for the Oiler alumni.

"He'll be the go-to guy," Gretzky said. "He's in the best shape."

Gretzky also said he hasn't been asked to join talks between the NHL and the players' union regarding a new collective bargaining agreement.

"It's way over my head," he said.

As a former player and current part-owner of the Coyotes, he understands each side's aims.

"I think everyone agrees, for the sake of the game, we'd like to continue so hockey is not blanked out," he said.

What's wrong with the Dallas Stars? Where to begin?

The defense is rudderless without Derian Hatcher, who left as a free agent, and Darryl Sydor, gone in a three-way deal that landed fading veteran Teppo Numminen. Richard Matvichuk isn't a cornerstone defenseman, but he's playing that range of minutes.

With a weak defense in front of him, goalie Marty Turco has gotten off his game. Bill Guerin has scored 11 goals at home and none on the road, a key factor in the team's 2-6-1 road record.

And although plus/minus is more an indicator than an absolute measurement of performance, Mike Modano's minus-13 accurately reflects how horribly he has played.

The Stars' fortunes should improve when Jere Lehtinen returns from a shoulder injury, but he's no miracle worker.

USA Hockey this week will announce its managerial staff for next year's World Cup of Hockey. General Manager Larry Pleau of the St. Louis Blues is the top candidate. Team USA's coaches won't be named for a while, but Peter Laviolette, a U.S. Olympian and former Islander coach who led a U.S. team to the title at the Deutschland Cup, will be in the mix.

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