Disney On Ice (Hockey)
If you were a kid growing up in the 90s—like me—then The Mighty Ducks movies very well may have introduced you to hockey. The film was a financial success for Disney, spawning sequels, a cartoon, and an NHL franchise.
Yep. With the league expanding, Disney was awarded a franchise in December of 1992. Taking their name from the film, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim went into the 1993 NHL Entry Draft holding the 4th overall pick.
With that pick, General Manager Jack Ferreira selected Maine Black Bears’ winger Paul Kariya. With a new team in a fledgling hockey market, it was crucial to land a hit with the pick.
That’s exactly what Kariya proved to be.
Breaking into the league for the 1994-95 season, Kariya put up 18 goals and 39 points in 47 games while playing on a struggling Anaheim squad. While this was an impressive start, Kariya had a star-making season in 1995-96.
Appearing in all 82 games, the sophomore exploded for 50 goals and 108 points. Kariya found instant chemistry with Selanne after the latter’s February arrival, a trend that continued until the trade that sent Selanne to San Jose.
Injuries limited Kariya to 69 games in the 1996-97 season, however, he still put up 44 goals and 99 points. A contract impasse and a concussion led to the winger appearing in just 22 games during the 1997-98 season, though he still managed 17 goals and 31 points.
The 1998-99 season saw Kariya rebound in a big way. He eclipsed the 100-point mark for the second time in his career, notching 101 points (39 goals, 62 assists) while appearing in all 82 games.
All told, Kariya appeared in 606 games with the Mighty Ducks, posting 300 goals and 669 total points. He added 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 35 playoff games, including 6 goals and 6 assists in their run to the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals.
Almost unsurprising for such a closely linked duo, Kariya—like Selanne—was an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2003.
Rocky Mountain Reload
From their arrival in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche had established themselves as an NHL powerhouse. They captured the Stanley Cup in their first season in Colorado and netted a second championship 5 years later.
Over their first 8 seasons in Denver, the Avalanche accumulated 360 wins, capturing their division title each year. Veteran stars Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg were supplemented by rising talents such as Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay.
Through the years, General Manager Pierre Lacroix was able to add players like Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, and Rob Blake through trades. The team had never been without high-caliber talent and their record reflected that.
Things began to change in the Mile High City, and not for the better.
Bourque, who had been traded to Colorado in 2000 to chase his first Stanley Cup, retired shortly after the Avalanche won the 2001 championship.
Roy, who had posted 262 wins and 37 shutouts since joining the team, followed suit in 2003. His last game was a Game 7 upset loss to the Minnesota Wild in the opening round of the 2003 postseason.
Sakic—the team’s longtime captain—remained a point-per-game producer, though he would turn 34 prior to the start of the 2003-04 season.
Forsberg, one of the most dominating players in hockey history, was 30 and suffering through an increasing amount of injuries. Blake, the talented, two-way blueliner, was 33.
Now, none of these players suffered an immediate drop-off, but Lacroix recognized that their window to win championships was slowly closing. The team needed a shot in the arm. As if sensing this, the Hockey Gods provided.
Granted, players the caliber of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne don’t come cheap. Roy’s retirement freed up $8.5 million, easing the financial burden on the team’s owners. Kariya, who had earned $10 million in his final season with Anaheim, signed a one-year deal for $1.5 million.
Selanne declined a $6.5 million option to return to San Jose, taking a one-year, $5.8 million deal with Colorado. The pair had decided to sign as a package and accepted pay cuts to play on a loaded Avalanche team.
The tandem signing sent shockwaves through the league and, on paper, made the Avalanche favorites to win the Stanley Cup.