Tales From The Predsmobile: An Ode To Paul Kariya
By: Miranda Martin
Paul Kariya is a name not frequently mentioned in the Preds world anymore. Of course, nowadays, when people say “PK,” we answer “Subban,” as we should, just as when we say “Forsberg,” it’s Filip instead of Peter. When I’ve taken Lyft rides over the past several months, I’m not even sure that Paul Kariya has ever been mentioned by any Preds fans. It could be because many fans weren’t living in Nashville twelve years ago, or it could be it was never brought up in the right conversation. But he has every right to be mentioned, because without his impact on the team, there’s no telling where the Nashville Predators franchise would be today.
Monday evening, former Nashville Predator Paul Kariya was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, alongside his bromance brother and long time Mighty Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne. In his speech, Paul Kariya recognized the Nashville Predators franchise–naming David Poile and former coach Barry Trotz–thanking the team and saying, “I am so proud to have played for such an amazing organization and to see the continued growth of hockey in Tennessee.” But, honestly, we as fans should be thanking him for taking a chance on Nashville before it was normal to do so.
In August of 2005, hockey engagement in Nashville was incredibly bleak. The 2004-2005 season in its entirety was cancelled, muting all of the excitement of the first ever playoff series for the Nashville Predators in the 2003-2004 season. Even though the Titans were coming off a disappointing 2004 season, they were still highlighting the headlines in hopes of starting anew. The fragile non-traditional hockey market still trying to sink its claws into the Nashville culture was definitely struggling for any news.
Then Paul Kariya signed a 2-year, $9 million contract with the Nashville Predators, and it brought to life something the Predators never had before that moment–a big free agent signing. Kariya was fresh off of a one season stint with the Colorado Avalanche–a season that would get him reunited with Teemu Selanne for the last time in their respective careers. It was also the first time that a big agent took a chance on this team, and arguably the turning point of the franchise that led to the team we have today.
New fans started coming into the arena to watch Nashville’s first “star” player. He scored in the home opener of the 2005-2006 season. He also is credited with the first shootout goal in Predators history, as this was the first post-lockout season that the shootout was adopted. His very first season, Kariya set franchise records for most points in a season (85), most goals (31), and most assists (54). He still holds the record for most points by a Nashville Predator to this day.
It was the first time the Nashville Predators had any glory to their name, something we nowadays take advantage of coming off the first Stanley Cup Final series run. The Predators in the 2005-2006 season saw their best points record, resulting in 4th place in the Western Conference and 2nd in the division behind the Detroit Red Wings. In the 2006-2007 season, coming off their second ever big free agent signing in Jason Arnott, the Predators had their best ever winning record. In that season, it also brought another major highlight to Nashville with a short stint with NHL hockey legend Peter Forsberg, acquired by the team from Philadelphia at the trade deadline. Even for a brief moment, the Preds led the Western Conference and the NHL in points for a steady couple of weeks in January and February. Ending up just three points behind Detroit in the Central Division standings, it was also the first time the Predators also ever had home ice advantage for the playoffs.
One of my fondest memories ever as a Preds fan occurred February 24, 2007. I was in the stands when Peter Forsberg scored the game winning overtime goal against the Detroit Red Wings, and, if memory serves me right, the Preds went ahead of the Wings in the standings with the win. Of course the man who fed him the puck in a beautiful backhand feed was no other than Paul Kariya. I saw that time as the “peak” of the Predators, but in reality, it was the first decade’s peak, with a surprising and adventurous future ahead.
The Paul Kariya years ended again in bleak times, and sometimes I wonder if that’s why his stint is often not discussed or forgotten. Though the regular season found success for the 2 years, neither teams found success in the playoffs, losing in 5 games both times to the San Jose Sharks in the first rounds of their respective postseasons. With the poor playoff performance and attendance issues even with a star-studded lineup, the Predators went up for sale May 2007. I will admit, I personally had a lot of animosity towards Kariya when he shipped off, choosing not to re-sign with the Predators at a time where I felt he was desperately needed to prevent the team from moving. Just like many others, he had become my favorite player, and with the firesalie of high-salaried players and fan favorites occurred that offseason, 17-year-old me felt abandoned. I sold my Paul Kariya mustard jersey in a fit of rage–something I have regretted for years now.
Beyond the Nashville Predators, Paul Kariya was also one of the major players that catalyzed the paradigm shift of playing styles within the NHL. In a sport known for grit, size, and fights, Kariya’s smaller size, speed, and skill style of play is now what most hockey systems covet in a post-Gretzky era. His performance, speed, and skill to read the puck and ice helped show that the value of hockey could go beyond body checks and dropping gloves. After the lockout in 2004, the NHL has continually added and adjusted the rules to better fit a speed and skill set of hockey performance. We see a similar style today in a lot of players on the Preds roster, like Viktor Ardvisson, Kevin Fiala, and Calle Jarnkrok.
Amidst the Preds 20th season, the Predators name is synonymous with blockbuster trades and big free-agent signings. David Poile has been recognized on the award platform for his magic, winning GM of the year for the 2016-2017 season. Just this month, the Predators were involved in a landmark trade that landed Matt Duchene in Ottawa and Kyle Turris in Nashville. Turris is already making a name for himself by scoring in his Preds debut and signing 6 additional years in Nashville as part of the trade terms. Plus, right now we still get to see the success of a different Forsberg and “PK,” which always makes me smile to think about. And now the Predators all-time leading season points record holder is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Paul Kariya was only a part of the franchise for a tenth of its existence, but that one tenth was a major building block and a lasting impact on the story of this franchise. Thank you and congratulations on the well-deserved Hockey Hall of Fame induction, Paul Kariya. I look forward to finding your plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day, and I am so thankful that I am able to share the long-lasting memories you had on this Nashville franchise.