Needless to say, Colorado’s 2003-04 season didn’t play out the way that anyone expected, most of all Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. They planned to join a deep Avalanche team and compete for the Stanley Cup.
Instead, Kariya lost 31 games to injuries. In the 51 games that he appeared in, he picked up 11 goals and 36 points. That’s not terrible by any stretch but it certainly isn’t what he, Lacroix, or the fans in Denver expected.
Selanne appeared in all but 4 of Colorado’s games, notching 16 goals and 32 points in 78 games. This was, by far, the worst season of his career statistically at that point.
For his part, Selanne was dealing with his own ailment, specifically his left knee. In a 2006 interview with The New York Times Selanne stated that “my left leg had no power. I couldn’t use my speed.”
Luckily for Selanne, the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season gave him plenty of time to mend and return stronger.
For the Avalanche, this season was a harbinger. Decline slowly set in across the board as the luster of their powerhouse years began to fade. Forsberg signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer of 2005; Blake returned to the Los Angeles Kings one year later.
Sakic, the longtime face of the franchise and the only captain the team had known in Denver, soldiered on. The Burnaby, B.C. native netted 83 goals and 239 points in 223 games from 2005-06 until 2008-09 when injuries forced him to retire.
With Sakic done as a player, the Avalanche saw diminishing returns on the ice, bottoming out with an abysmal 16 win, 39 point season in 2012-13. They wouldn’t win another division title until 2013-14.
Incidentally, the Avalanche named a new executive vice president/general manager in May of 2013.
I also can’t fail to add that—under Sakic’s guidance—the Avalanche have returned to prominence as one of the best teams in the NHL.
Into the Sunset
So, what happened to our dynamic duo after their less-than-ideal year with Colorado?
Following the 2004-05 NHL Lockout, Kariya signed a 2-year, $9 million contract with the Nashville Predators. Thankfully, the speedy winger remained healthy, appearing in all 164 regular-season games. During this time, he picked up 55 goals and 161 points, a very nice turnaround after a disappointing 2003-04.
This resurgence earned him a 3-year, $18 million contract with the St. Louis Blues. Despite tying for the team lead in scoring with 65 points in his first season in the Gateway City, Kariya’s production was down.
This was exacerbated the following season when he suffered a hip injury that required surgery to repair a torn labrum. Kariya suffered an additional setback when a later MRI revealed that the opposite labrum also needed surgery.
All told, Kariya appeared in just 11 games during the 2008-09 season, though he put up 15 points (2 goals, 13 assists).
The 2009-10 season would prove to be Kariya’s last playing professional hockey. He appeared in 75 games, scoring 18 goals and 43 points, before suffering the sixth concussion of his career in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. As a consequence, doctors refused to clear him to play, leading him to sit out the entire 2010-11 season.
While his post-concussion symptoms abated during his year away, doctors continued to advise him against resuming his NHL career. As a result, Kariya officially announced his retirement on June 29, 2011. Kariya finished his career with 402 goals, 587 assists, and 989 points in 989 career games.