Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mailbag: Ghost of Rumors Past

As we're likely experiencing a bump in readership, I thought I'd revisit a question on the "9: A Problem Like Kariya" post. One of our readers asked me why I was so quick to believe the rumor that Kariya wanted to leave because he wasn't being protected, but so quick to dismiss the rumor that Kariya reneged on a verbal agreement.

First, let me say that I'm sure Don Baizley, Kariya's agent, put the 'protection' rumor out there. As a negotiation tactic, leaking that kind of information works very well, whether it's true or not. After the Suter crosscheck, it took on a life of its own. At the time, I agreed with it, and I still do, but I'm fully aware that it's the sort of rumor born on the bargaining table and not in the locker room.

Now, on to the 'verbal agreement.' I'm going to accuse the Kariya-haters of a little linguistic gymnastics here. I did not read EVERY piece covering Bryan Murray's comments on Kariya in 2003, but I believe I read the piece in question and I don't recall Murray attempting to depict the telephone conversations as a 'verbal agreement.' The verbal agreement that burned Murray came 6 months later when he traded Corey Perry for Mike Comrie, and Kevin Lowe tried a little Saskatchewan Shakedown. Murray had never claimed his talks with Kariya amounted to a verbal agreement, only that Kariya had no reason to be surprised that the qualifying offer was not tendered.

I declined to delve into the He-Said/He-Said between Kariya and Murray before because I don't consider any of that factual, but this is the gist of it: On June 30, 2003, Murray claimed Paul was "obviously disappointed" that the Ducks did not make a qualifying offer.  After signing with the Avs, Kariya told (I believe it was) The OC Register (but please correct me if I'm wrong) that he was surprised not to receive a qualifying offer, or something to that effect. Bryan Murray took offense to that characterization, and he recounted, to The Register, the details of the offseason telephone conversations between him and the star forward. Murray claimed he'd informed Kariya of his plans not to make the qualifying offer and his plans to pursue Teemu or another free agent, and that Paul was receptive to everything, saying he understood and that he didn't need another $10 million. Murray further explained that none of this could be disclosed to the press until Teemu entered free agency because of tampering issues. Murray's tone in the article was very gracious, and never implied that Kariya was bound to an agreement in any way, only that the parties had discussed things and seemed to arrive at a meeting of the minds. If someone can find this article, please send it to us, but from memory, that's all I think it said.

Now, let me start by saying that I love Bryan Murray. Even after he left the Ducks, he and I tend to agree on Draft day and when we look at the free agency market. But I don't automatically believe anyone just because they continued to cash checks that said "Disney" and the other guy didn't. Here are my three reasons for dismissing Murray's claims outright:

1) If Kariya had really burned him, Murray would have publicly shamed him the way he did Kevin Lowe. Six months after Kariya left, the Ducks finalized a trade for Mike Comrie off-paper, but Oilers GM Kevin Lowe attempted to insert an unprecedented clause that obligated Comrie to make a one-time cash payment to the Edmonton organization. Murray immediately went public with Lowe's actions. When Bryan was on the right side of a raw deal, he stood up for his position and tried to turn the other guy into an untouchable in the hockey community. I remember being struck by the fact that his comments on Kariya were so careful and gracious and only attempting to refute the alleged 'surprise.' To me, those were the words of a guy who wanted to keep his job and let his bosses know that he didn't make their franchise player a UFA without some kind of plan. If Murray had really justifiably relied on Kariya resigning with Anaheim, he'd have publicly shamed him without fear of backlash from the NHLPA.

2) Murray's story changed. Somewhere between "disappointed" and "surprised" the Ducks GM became uncomfortable. On June 30th, Kariya was allowed to be disappointed. After he signed with the Avs, he wasn't allowed to say he was surprised. I'm not really clear on the difference if Kariya, as Murray insists, knew ahead of time that the qualifying offer would not be made. One could blame the confusion on the verbal black-ops that Murray alleged were necessary to reunite Paul and Teemu, but I can't keep up with that. Any time I'm asked to keep track of when someone is supposed to be lying to me and when they're supposed to be telling me the 100% truth, I get confused. I'm weird that way.

3) Paul Kariya likes money. It may surprise you that that's my reason, but I never said that it was a misconception that he wanted to get paid, just that that wasn't why he held out in '97. Of course he wants to get paid. Add to that the fact that he took another major concussion in 2003, and may have been staring at a shortened career, and I can't imagine Paul Kariya the way Murray described him, just nodding along and talking about how he didn't need the money. That's not the Paul I knew. Maybe Stevens hit him harder than we thought. Or maybe the Ducks GM wanted us to believe that Paul grifted him, but I can't imagine that Murray is the kind of fool to be taken in by those cartoony sentiments when the clash between Kariya and Ferreira was so well-publicized. If the conversations were not completely fabricated, I have to assume they were exaggerated or that some deep miscommunication happened.

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