Known for his creative explosiveness, energy and great speed ends a stellar 15-year NHL career where he was undoubtedly one of the most skilled players of his generation.
Kariya, drafted by Anaheim with the fourth pick in the 1993 Entry Draft, had a long history of concussion troubles, including one that resulted from a crosscheck in the face made by Chicago’s Gary Suter that ended his dream of participating in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano Japan.
He was also devastated by hits from Scott Stevens and Patrick Kaleta. The multiple concussions hindered Kariya over the latter half of his career to the point where he was clearly not the same player as he was in his prime.
Kariya emerged as an NHL star with the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Teaming up with Teemu Selanne, the duo formed one of the most lethal tandems in the NHL. It is worth noting that Kariya's best years came with Selanne on his wing, but his scoring fell off without him. Whereas Selanne enjoyed several great seasons without Kariya.
Yet it was Kariya who was the face of the franchise and in some ways the face of Canadian hockey.
Always approachable and affable, Kariya was easy for both the fans and the media to like. Especially the Canadian media. In the 1990s, the Canadian media was looking for the super skilled Canadian nice guy to wave the Canadian flag. The media did this in the past with Bobby Orr and with Wayne Gretzky, who was on the down side of his career. They never warmed to the big brute and bully Eric Lindros, who was Canada's top player. Both Lindros and Kariya embraced Team Canada in the years before NHL players represented national teams at the Olympics, but it was the nice guy Kariya that they wrapped the Canadian flag around and championed.
The two-time recipient of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship, ends his career (which also saw stops in Colorado, Nashville and St. Louis) with 402 goals and 587 assists in 989 games. He also finished as the runner up to Dominik Hasek in Hart Trophy balloting in 1997, and finished top 5 in NHL scoring 3 times.
The question becomes is that enough to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame? The answer came in 2017 - yes. He was inducted alongside his close friend Teemu Selanne.
Kariya was a special player, certainly a top 10 player in his prime. His peak years were from 1995 through 2000 when he was mentioned in the same breath as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Eric Lindros, Jaromir Jagr and Selanne as the best player in the game. He was the best skater and arguably the most intelligent hockey superstar of his time.
Estranged from hockey for years after his forced retirement, it's good to have Paul Kariya's smile back in the game again.