Kariya to play for third team in three years

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators fought for a fair labor deal for small-market teams to help them compete in the NHL. They followed through with the biggest signing in the expansion franchise's short history.

Paul Kariya signed a two-year, $9 million deal with the Predators on Friday. It's the left winger's third team in three seasons, and he becomes Nashville's biggest scoring threat yet.

"This is a day we've been waiting for for a long time for this franchise," general manager David Poile said. "He had a lot of places to go. The fact [is] he chose Nashville, and I think in some regards that's got to be somewhat of a stunner that he chose here instead of going to some other bigger market where he could get more fanfare."

The 30-year-old forward spent his first seven NHL seasons with Anaheim, helping the Mighty Ducks reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2003. Then he joined up with former teammate Teemu Selanne, and the
pair signed free-agent deals with Colorado for the 2003-04 season.

He said he chose Nashville because the Predators started courting him the instant free agency opened.

"They showed a commitment to me that I was the guy they wanted to bring to Nashville, and I was very excited about their hockey club," Kariya said in a teleconference. "I think it's a great young hockey club that's only going to get better. I'm really excited about the speed and the goaltending. With the new rules changes coming, I think it's only going to benefit Nashville."

Predators owner Craig Leipold was on the league's executive committee, which negotiated the new collective bargaining agreement with the $39 million salary cap that ended the season-long lockout.

"This is exactly what we dreamed about when we talked about the new CBA and being on a more level playing field," Poile said. "We've seen that already to a certain extent in the free-agency period ... The dollars are more evenly spread. These guys now are at least attracted to our markets."

Nashville capped its sixth season in April 2004 with a franchise-best 91 points and its first playoff berth before losing to Detroit in six games. The Predators have largely kept that roster intact, including goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who tied for third in the NHL with 34 victories that season.

Kariya said he thinks the Predators have one of the fastest teams in the NHL.

"They have great goaltending, great work ethic, and if they lacked anything, it was some scoring punch up front. I looked at that as a big role I could fill, and I was really excited to come here and do that," Kariya said.

At Colorado, Kariya had career lows with 11 goals and 36 points in an injury-plagued season that limited him to just 51 games.

Kariya missed 31 of the first 38 games because of a sprained wrist and got into only one playoff game after he sprained his ankle in the Avalanche's last regular-season game. But he said the lockout, while unwanted, has helped him heal up completely.

"It gave my body a chance to rest and recover from all the injuries accumulated over the years. I'm 100 percent now. This is the best I've felt," he said.

In 10 NHL seasons, Kariya has 311 goals and 705 points in 657 games.

Kariya, a seven-time All-Star, has recorded over 100 points twice, gone over 30 goals six times and has averaged 1.073 points per game for his career.

"This is a place where you can win, and I think it's what the league wants and that's what they got," Kariya said.