|The Blues signed Paul Kariya to a three-year contract when free agency opened on July 1 (Photo by Mark Buckner).
John Davidson paced around the conference room while the immediate future of his franchise was hanging in the balance.
Quite literally, more than 30,000 feet in the air.
Because somewhere in the sky between Vancouver and Anaheim was Paul Kariya, debating whether to accept a multi-year contract from the St. Louis Blues or another team interested in giving its offense a bit more firepower.
He had been visiting relatives in Vancouver when the Blues first called to inquire about bringing him to St. Louis. But Kariya, who says he’s not capable of making rash decisions, told the Blues he’d think about it.
“I found out in the morning from the get-go that they thought highly of me as a player and were really interested in having me come (to St. Louis),” Kariya said. “But I just wanted to talk to my family and talk to my mom and brothers to make sure they thought it was a good fit.”
Meanwhile, Davidson and the rest of the Blues front office continued to anxiously wait for an answer. The Blues’ hunt for available free agents was completely put on hold.
“We decided right at that time, we’re committed,” Davidson said. “Whatever happens, happens here. We were going to close down shop and wait. We want Paul Kariya to be a Blue.”
Daniel Briere signed with Philadelphia. Ryan Smyth agreed to play in Colorado, while Chris Drury and Scott Gomez went to the New York Rangers. More and more of the top free agents were disappearing from the open market, and if Kariya opted to sign elsewhere, the Blues would have missed out on players they otherwise might have tried to lure to St. Louis.
Davidson and the rest of the Blues front office were sitting on pins and needles.
“You’re agonizing,” Davidson said. “That aircraft was delayed. It was tough. To be honest, it was very gut-wrenching.”
To help ease the anxiety, the Blues tracked Kariya’s flight on a laptop in the conference room. Not long after the plane landed in Anaheim, the phone rang and Blues General Manager Larry Pleau put the call on speaker so everyone could hear. Kariya wanted to be a Blue.
|Kariya has recorded 366 goals and 500 assists in 821 career NHL games. |
“Man, you should have seen the reaction that room,” Davidson said, recalling the incident. “It was something.”
Kariya’s decision to sign a three-year contract with the Blues meant that for at least three seasons, the Blues would have the rights to one of the league’s marquee players. Kariya brings to St. Louis a resume that includes 821 NHL games played, 366 goals and 500 assists.
Combined with the signing of Keith Tkachuk a day earlier, the Blues filled vacancies on its roster with two experienced and seasoned veterans, and nobody was more excited about it than Blues head coach Andy Murray.
“(Kariya) is scary,” Murray said. “Every time he was on the ice, you were worried, because you knew something was going to happen and scoring chances were going to result. He makes things happen on the ice and he’s going to excite people in the building, there’s no question about it.”
Kariya, who spent the last two seasons with the Nashville Predators, decided to test the free agent market after the ownership situation in Nashville got a bit cloudy. With the franchise’s future uncertain, he decided it was time to move on.
“As a free agent, you want to go to a place that wants you,” he said. “In St. Louis’ situation, I was their first call. I seemed like a high priority on their list, and as a player, that’s something you want.”
Although nerve-wrecking, Davidson recounts the events of July 1 with a smile.
“In the world of St. Louis Blues hockey, it was stressful,” he said. “We want to do things right here in St. Louis, and we let Paul know he’s our guy. We weren’t talking to anybody else, we weren’t even going to worry about it. We want(ed) Paul.
“Luckily, it worked out.”