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TSN Hockey Contributor


Before people made Paul Kariya the poster boy for the perils of brain injuries in hockey, he was a hockey player.

A special player.

He entered the NHL in 1994 as the league’s most heralded pure playmaker since Wayne Gretzky.

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim coach Ron Wilson said, “You’re never going to be able to find a player like Wayne Gretzky, but Paul has the possibility of coming as close as anyone possibly could.”

However hyperbolic that may sound, Kariya was the total package: possessing extraordinary speed, a superlative array of shots – including the game’s best backhand – an uncommon imagination and an ability (plus desire) to change on the fly.

He entered the NHL as a Hobey Baker Award-winning collegian who averaged three assists for every goal and by season two was a 50-goal scorer.

“Always be changing, dynamic,” said Kariya of his own theory of hockey evolution.

Kariya ranked third in points per game (minimum 800 games) – behind only Jaromir Jagr and Joe Sakic and tied with, who else, Teemu Selanne ­– over the first dozen seasons of his career.

“[Kariya] has got everything you could possibly imagine in a hockey player,” said 1993-94 Hart Trophy winner Sergei Fedorov.

“Oh my God, he’s fun to watch,” Eric Lindros said of Kariya at the time.

Kariya and Lindros could not be any more different as players, but they are linked by hockey history – connected by brain injuries inflicted by the same player – Scott Stevens.

The two superstars share another common characteristic. They were late to the Hall of Fame party – Lindros elected in his seventh year of eligibility and Kariya in his fifth.

The Hockey Hall of Fame should be home to great players first and to great numbers second. The two don’t always go hand in hand and Hall of Fame selectors have historically been slow to recognize the distinction.

The principal factor holding Lindros and Kariya back from first-ballot entries were the cumulative effects of concussions. Neither reached the absolute upper statistical limits of their career potential, but their brilliance – even if over relatively short periods of time – made them bona fide Hall of Famers.

In November, 1995, Kariya was elbowed by Toronto defenceman Mathieu Schneider – the hit Kariya calls the “dirtiest” he ever took – and suffered his first NHL concussion. It was a sign of the times that one Leaf coach suggested Doug Gilmour would have bounced up and continued playing if he had been hit like that.

Kariya responded, “If Doug Gilmour can play while he’s not conscious, all the more power to him.”

Arguably, Kariya did just that in Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup final when he famously scored a goal after being knocked unconscious earlier in the contest by Stevens.

Hall of Fame inductees Kariya, Selanne, Mark Recchi and Dave Andreychuk all participated in the TSN Quiz Friday and were asked if they supported Hall of Famer Ken Dryden’s call for all hits to the head to be penalized regardless of circumstance or, alternatively, believed the current rule that allows for some exceptions should be maintained.

Recchi and Andreychuk answered “maintain the current rule,” Kariya and Selanne said “penalize all head hits.”


We don’t know how Lindros would have answered the question, but we do know that he and Kariya share more than a common past, they share a friendship. Lindros was at the Hall of Fame party hosted by Kariya and Selanne on Saturday. That Lindros attended meant a lot to Kariya.

And there’s one more thing connecting Kariya and Lindros: Kariya finished his career with 989 points.

Care to guess where that ranks him all-time? Yup. 88.