The early 90’s was the wild west of hockey. The WWE of NHL officiating and the heyday of rock’em sock’em hockey. Concussions were still a thing you shook off and enforcers trolled the ice like a shark in a kiddy pool just waiting to exact justice according to the unwritten code. It was a different time, a different cast of characters and a different brand of NHL hockey altogether.
Among that madness was a generously listed 5’11 210lbs. Russian who struck fear in any player crossing the blueline and if he caught you with your head down, you might be waking up in the locker room. He played with an edge that blurred the lines of tough-nosed hockey and just plain dirty. He’d knock you on your ass and then trip you as you got up. He was the definition of a player you hate with a passion unless he’s on your team and even then he’s likely to play with the same edge in practice.
This precisely what the Avalanche were looking for when the acquired Darius Kasparaitis in 2001-2002. The man the called Kaspar.
Kasparitis started his professional hockey career like all Russians of the day with a stint in the KHL playing for the Dynamo and eventually making his way to the NHL to play 5 years with the New York Islanders as a 1st round, 5th overall draft pick.
He’d move on to play 6 years after that with the Pittsburgh Penguins before a short stint with the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline in exchange for Rick Berry and Ville Nieminen. The deal in large part was a part of a plan by Kasparaitis and his agent to take advantage of a CBA loophole that would allow him to become a class 5 free agent at the end of the season to the highest bidder after just one year of his 2 year deal with the Avalanche.
He played 11 games in the regular season before playing 21 games in the 2001-2002 playoffs. The Avs played three 7 game series only to be defeated by the Detroit Red Wings in the semi-finals with a forgettable 7-0 loss, which would be the last game Kasparaitis played in an Avalanche jersey.
Colorado was never a long-term destination for Kaspar who was making less than the 1.6m average for NHL players and looking for a sunset deal that would pay him triple the 1.2m salary he was making in Colorado.
He eventually landed with the New York Rangers and according to reports at the instance from Eric Lindros who was on the receiving end of a highlight reel hit from Kasparaitis while with the Flyers. The hit that started all of his concussion issues.
More proof that it’s better to have a guy like Kaspar on your team, and not playing against him.
Darius Kasparaitis would play 4 more years in the NHL with lock-out year spent back in Russia before heading back to Russia again and then off to the LTA where he’d finally end nearly 2 decades of wrecking ball hockey.
But for 33 glorious games, he was a Colorado Avalanche.