[This article originally appeared in the Apr. 10 issue of St. Louis Game Time.]
By Chris Gift
I rooted for Detroit last night, and I still feel very, very impure for doing it. If damaging Nashville's hopes for the playoffs came down to rooting for Detroit or slow dancing with Rev. Larry Rice, I'd have headed over to 14th & Locust wearing the finest $5 suit I could find.
While you attempt to purge that image from your head, I'm sure you remember the scene in Hoosiers when one of the players on Hickory fouls out. Instead of sending his only sub, Coach Norman Dale tells the referee "my team is on the court," and they play with four. That's my take about Paul Kariya's future with the Blues.
You know what Coach Dale would do with the Kariya situation.
Since Kariya's injury during the team's 11th game (the Blues were 5-6-0 with Kariya), the Blues have transformed their roster from a group of veterans with intermingled young players to a group of young players with contributions from veterans.
Eleven games into this season the top line was Brad Boyes (now with Andy McDonald and David Backes on the top line), Keith Tkachuk (now a 4th liner with Brad Winchester and Dan Hinote) and Kariya. Manny Legace was a number-one goalie. Lee Stempniak and Alex Pietrangelo were here. We had no idea what a "Cole-e-ack-o-vo" was, and we all could have sworn that Alex Steen was a Fruit Euro. BJ Crombeen was a Dallas Star.
Hell, it was so long ago that Tkachuk was tied for second in the league in goals, and Berglund had a total of three points.
David Backes hadn't learned to lick his elbow yet. TJ Oshie had launched neither a political career, nor Rick Nash.
Those 2008-2009 Blues were more a hybrid of what the '07-08 Blues were, and not quite yet what these current Blues would become. They use the expression in college sports that once you get past a certain point in a season that Freshmen aren't Freshmen anymore. The kids that Kariya played with aren't kids anymore. Mason isn't a backup goalie anymore. The defensive crew is better. Jay McClement's career year has come with Kariya on the shelf.
Kariya has served his purpose in St. Louis. He was brought in as a "name" to show to the casual Joe St. Louis Sportsfan, who had lost interest in what the Blues were doing, that the Checketts group was intent on building a winner, and that a name like Kariya would put asses in the seats; and to an extent, he did.
In the fall of 2007, the Blues marketed the Whatever it Takes propaganda with Doug Weight, Legace and Kariya. Those three did whatever it took and it wasn't enough. Neither Weight nor Manny exited on their own terms, and it looks like Kariya isn't going to either.
Kariya isn't needed on the '08-'09 Blues, and he isn't needed as a part of the Blues anymore, period. His $6 million salary for next year is awfully steep for a player that will turn 35 in October and because of injury and declining talent has played 93 games with only 18 goals and 80 points in the past two seasons.
The NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement states that any player may be bought out of his contract and become a free agent if the player's team pays the player 2/3 of the remaining contract. The salary cap hit is spread over twice the amount of years remaining in the contract. Translation: the Blues can get out of the Kariya mess by paying him $4 million over the summer, and it will only hurt the books for two years at $2 million per season.
But back to the current Kariya situation...sticking Kariya in there for one game, Sunday in Colorado, or seeing him in the playoffs doesn't seem to accomplish much. Clinched playoff spot or not, Kariya will be rusty, the team will be pressing to help Kariya fit in, and somebody will have to sit. It isn't a good idea at first glance, and the more glances that are taken at it, it becomes worse and worse of an idea.
One more final point, and please don't imply any "I'm not here to talk about the past" notions here. I'm merely comparing what happened on the respective fields of play as each athlete approached the end of their career.
I'm not sure of the year, but one season when Mark McGwire was hurt (2000 or 2001 if I remember correctly), the Cardinals would have him lead off on the road and "play" second base so he could get an at-bat against live pitching, then Fernando Vina would pinch run if he reached base, and take his place in the field. It was bizarre.
I almost see a parallel here. Kariya isn't what he was, which, like McGwire was previously great. The team he was on was clearly looking to the future. The Tino Martinez debacle aside, Albert Pujols was clearly the first baseman in waiting, while Teej Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Aaron Palushaj, Lars Eller and others are the future of this franchise.
Kariya won't help the Blues win a series in the '09 playoffs if he plays. If he doesn't play it may help the Blues win a playoff series in years to come.
I can't believe I'm saying it, but it looks like I'll be seeing you again in about ten days, after three road games.