Welcome to the debut and first installment of the St. Louis Blues Forgotten Files here on Interstate 70 Sports Media. The Forgotten Files are going to be an ongoing article series which features former high-profile or well-known NHL players, in some cases even former superstars who had short stints with the St. Louis Blues that many fans tend to forget about. Strap in and get ready for some Blues nostalgia.
To start the series, we are going to dive into a player that hockey fans worldwide know: Paul Kariya. Kariya lit up the stat sheet at the University of Maine, recording 124 points (33 G, 91 A) in just 51 games across two seasons from 1992-1994. His performance during his freshman year (100 points in 39 games) skyrocketed his draft stock as Kariya was drafted 4th overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 1993 NHL Draft. Kariya would then spend nine seasons with the Ducks where he flourished as a player. While in Anaheim, Kariya played in 606 games where he tallied 300 goals and 369 assists for a total of 669 point, participated in the NHL All-Star Game in five of those nine seasons, won two Lady Byng Trophy’s, helped lead the Ducks to a Stanley Cup Final appearance, and finished Top 10 in Hart Trophy voting three times including second in 1997, getting beat out by only Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek. Kariya also won a gold medal in the 1994 World Championships and in the 2002 Olympic Games.
After nearly a decade in Anaheim, Kariya elected to sign with the Colorado Avalanche in free agency during the summer of 2003 as he thought the Avs gave him the best chance at winning the Stanley Cup. Kariya had a decent season, totaling 36 points in 51 games but Colorado was ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks. After that season of course was the NHL lockout where play did not occur during the 2004-05 season. Once play returned, Kariya then signed a two-year deal with the Nashville Predators where he returned to All-Star form, totaling 85 points and 76 points respectively in his two seasons in Nashville where he was named an All-Star in both seasons.
Finally, Kariya comes to St. Louis. The Predators previous team owner had put the team up for sale in the summer of 2007 and with the franchise’s future unknown, Kariya decided to test the free agent market once again. This time, he agreed to a three-year deal with the St. Louis Blues worth $6 million AAV. Kariya had turned 33 at the start of the 2007-08 season and many were unsure what kind of production he was going to bring to St. Louis. Despite battling several injuries while in Anaheim, health was less of a worry than age when Kariya signed in St. Louis as he had played in all 82 games in four of the previous five seasons prior to signing with the Blues.
Kariya immediately was a difference maker for the Blues, recording 16 points (3 G, 13 A) in the team’s first 12 games. Kariya would go on to play in all 82 games for the Blues during the regular season, leading the team in assists with 49 and tying for the team lead alongside Brad Boyes in points with 65. Bad luck would strike for Kariya in his stint with the Blues in year two however, as he suffered a hip injury 11 games into the 2008-09 season where muscle fibers in his thigh were torn. After some recovery, Kariya began practicing with the Blues in late December but had a setback and an MRI showed that Kariya had a torn acetabular labrum in his hip, sidelining him indefinitely. The Blues ended up making the playoffs in the spring of 2009 after missing the playoffs in the previous three seasons. Kariya was still rehabbing his hip but it was thought that he could join the Blues in the playoffs at some point depending how long they could extend their run. However, the Blues failed to win a single game in their opening round series and were swept by the Vancouver Canucks before Kariya was at a point where he could play.
Kariya returned to the Blues fully healthy heading into the 2009-10 season, the final year of his contract. Kariya came out of the gates firing, as he scored two goals in the season opener including the game winner against the Detroit Red Wings as the Blues overcame a 3-1 3rd period deficit and scored three goals in the final eight minutes of play to capture the win. The Blues squared off against the Red Wings once again one day later as they were taking part in the 2009 NHL Premiere where the Blues and Red Wings played each other twice in Stockholm, Sweden to open the season. Kariya made his mark again in the second game, recording two assists in a 5-3 Blues victory.
Kariya would however suffer the sixth concussion of his professional career in a game in December of 2009 against the Buffalo Sabres where Kariya took an elbow to the head from Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta. Kariya would miss less than three weeks though before being able to resume play. Kariya went on to play in 75 games during the 2009-10 season, scoring 18 goals and adding 25 assists for a total of 43 points as the Blues failed to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. Kariya’s contract was then expired and he was set to turn 36 in October of 2010. Kariya expressed desire to play again and former Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne was gunning for Ducks management to bring Kariya back for one last ride for them to play together again. However due to all the head trauma Kariya had suffered in his career, doctors would not clear him to play, therefore Kariya ultimately decided to sit out the 2010-11 season due to post-concussion syndrome. Despite his symptoms getting better, doctors still advised Kariya that returning to play could be far too risky, therefore in June of 2011 Kariya announced his retirement from hockey. Kariya was later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017 and then had his number nine retired by the Ducks in 2018.
The Blues were the last team Kariya played for and the second longest tenured team he spent time with while in the NHL. But when you ask a hockey fan what they remember about Paul Kariya, the answer is never going to be about his time in Colorado, Nashville, or St. Louis; it is going to be about him blossoming into a superstar in Anaheim and helping make the Mighty Ducks jersey and brand a national phenomenon. “Off the floor, on the board, Paul Kariya!” is going to be of the most iconic calls and moments in NHL history forever. Maybe not so much inside of St. Louis but in general, Kariya’s time in St. Louis is typically pushed aside and forgotten about. It is also forgotten how solid of a player he was for the Blues too, playing in 168 games across three seasons and recording 123 points (36 G, 87 A) while averaging 0.73 points per game while in St. Louis. His time in St. Louis was short and not well remembered but nonetheless, we here in St. Louis got to witness a (then future) Hall of Famer don the note for the last three years of his career.