On August 5th 2005, the Nashville Predators made the NHL sit up and take notice as they signed Paul Kariya to a two-year contract. With a stroke of a pen, general manager David Poile added a player whose speed caused nightmares for opposing defenseman, whose shot was a threat to score from all over the offensive zone, and whose playmaking abilities lifted teammates to new levels of production.
Kariya only played those two seasons in Nashville (leaving as a free agent during the Fire Sale of 2007), but they stand out as the two highest-scoring seasons by a player in team history. Even though he came to the Preds after a stinker of a season with Colorado just before the Great Lockout of 2004-5, he was still a dynamic offensive force who gave the Predators their first game-breaking talent.
His name still pops up all over Nashville's record book:
- 1st & 2nd highest-scoring seasons in team history (85 points in 2005-6, 76 in 2006-7)
- 2nd-most goals in a season (31, tied with Steve Sullivan)
- 1st & 2nd most assists in a season (54 in 2005-6, 52 in 2006-7)
- Most power play goals in a season (14, tied with Andy Delmore)
- Most power play points in a season (46 in 2005-6)
- Most assists in a single playoff series (5, in 2006 vs San Jose)
- Has the only 4-point playoff game in team history (April 21 2006)
While he didn't quite match the gaudy goal-scoring totals of the late 90's with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Kariya carried the Predators to another level as a team, making them a dangerous force in the NHL for the first time. In 2005-6 and 2006-7, Nashville had what remain the two best regular season results (106 & 110 points) in team history, and rode high expectations into the playoffs, only to be defeated by the San Jose Sharks both times. Despite those playoff disappointments Kariya did contribute offensively, scoring twice and adding seven assists in 10 total playoff games.
The Kariya era stands out as a remarkable chapter in Nashville Predators history, not only due to the high level of team & individual achievement during that time, but as a high-water mark for the free agent signings the team has engaged in since then. It may be a long time before we see the Preds land a proven top-line forward of that caliber again.