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Monday, June 30
Anaheim stars become unrestricted free agents

ESPN.com news services

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had two tough decisions to make, and the answer Monday was "no" on both of them.

The Ducks said no to making a qualifying offer of $10 million to captain Paul Kariya and no to Adam Oates' $3.5 million option.

Adam Oates

Paul Kariya

Both stars will be unrestricted free agents as of midnight ET Monday night.

Had the Ducks qualified Kariya, he would have been paid a salary of $10 million for the fifth consecutive season, a price Anaheim was no longer willing to pay.

"It's tough financial times in our business, and we have to do some restructuring," Ducks general manager Bryan Murray said in a conference call. "We will still try to negotiate a contract with him."

Murray sounded unsure of the chances of getting Kariya to come back.

"He did not give us the right of first refusal. He was obviously disappointed," the GM said. "We had talked on a couple of occasions. I don't think he shut the door on us, by any means."

Kariya was not available for comment. His agent, Don Baizley, did not immediately return a call made to his office in Winnipeg.

If the negotiations prove unsuccessful, the seven-time All-Star would be leaving the franchise that made him its first-ever first-round draft pick back in 1993.

A left wing who has been Anaheim's only real star in recent years, Kariya had six goals and six assists over 21 games this postseason as the surprising Ducks made their improbable run to the Cup finals. His 12 points in the playoffs were third-highest on the team.

He played in all 82 regular-season games for the second consecutive year, and had 25 goals and 56 points.

Although the Ducks' drive to the Stanley Cup finals won many new fans for a team that had been drawing sparse crowds, Murray acknowledged that if the team loses the popular Kariya, at least some of the fans will be upset.

"I don't think there's any question. We understand he's a very important player for the franchise, very important going back (for years)," Murray said. "This year, he was a real catalyst. We don't want to lose our fans because of this. But when you're building a contending team, it's hard to have one player at $10 million when the payroll is in the mid to low 40s (millions).

"We're not going to drop our payroll. We want to add a couple of players, and the way it's structured right now, that was impossible to do."

Oates, an 18-year veteran who signed as a free agent with the Ducks last July 1, registered 9-36-45 in 67 games last season, despite missing 15 games due to a broken hand. He scored four goals and added nine assists in 21 playoff games.

"We've made an offer to Adam. But I'm sure he wants to investigate," Murray said.

TSN of Canada reported that the offer was $2.2 million and was rejected.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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