Programs! Get yer programs! Can't tell the teams without yer programs!
The time-honored refrain of the arena vendor provides timely advice for folks venturing to NHL arenas for the start of the 2003-04 regular season as many NHL teams have undergone quite a facelift since the conclusion of last season.
And the respective facelifts goes beyond the addition of a prospect or two or some minor tinkering via a trade. We're talking big-name players who will be sporting new uniforms and realigning expectations around the League.
That is especially true in the Western Conference, where the competition among the Western elite only grow more heated. And this season it's personal as a number of players long associated with Western powerhouses have changed addresses, joining other Western giants.
Will all the changes make for a shift in the balance of power? Well, that's the beauty of sports, we'll have to play the games to find out, but it sure makes for an interesting start to the season.
Three moves in particular defined the summer of 2003, as Dallas Stars captain Derian Hatcher pulled up stakes in Big D and went home to Michigan to join the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent. Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne went to the Colorado Avalanche and Sergei Fedorov signed on with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Losing Hatcher certainly gives the Stars pause as he is a moose to replace, and adding a player of Hatcher's caliber to a Detroit lineup that already boasts Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, former Norris winner Chris Chelios, Mathieu Schneider and Jiri Fischer, plus the return of "The Dominator" - Dominik Hasek - in goal, makes you wonder if the Wings are going to allow any goals this season.
"We are absolutely thrilled to have Derian Hatcher join our hockey club," said Red Wings GM Ken Holland. "He will be a major building block for our team for years to come. Derian is a unique player who grew up in the Detroit area and brings a great combination of size, strength, skill and toughness to our blue line. He was a Norris Trophy runner-up this year and by being a captain in Dallas he will be another leader in our dressing room."
But up front the Red Wings will have a different look as Fedorov, a fixture in the Detroit lineup since 1990, took advantage of his status as an unrestricted free agent and headed to Southern California to join the club that shocked the Red Wings in the first round of the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Mighty Ducks.
Those two factors should make this a rivalry to watch for sure.
The Mighty Ducks probably wouldn't have been in the market for a player of Fedorov's caliber had their own superstar - Kariya - not waddled to Denver for a reunion with Selanne in Colorado.
"He wants to be the top player, at the head of a hockey team, and I think we can provide that," Mighty Ducks GM Bryan Murray said of adding Fedorov. Murray also went East to add another scorer to his club, signing Tampa Bay's Vinny Prospal.
Those moves give the Mighty Ducks a new look that should cement the club's reputation as a Western contender. Certainly anyone who mistook the Mighty Ducks as a fluke won't make the same mistake again. In fact, Murray won considerable praise when he rebounded from Kariya's decision to head to Colorado with the quick, decisive moves in bringing in Fedorov and Prospal to add offensive spark to a team that already boasts excellent goaltending in Jean-Sebastien Giguere and an underrated defensive unit.
In Colorado, the Avalanche have been perhaps the busiest team during the off-season.
First, goaltender Patrick Roy departed the premises, retiring after a brilliant career that leaves him arguably the greatest goaltender in NHL history. But Avalanche GM Pierre Lacroix didn't jump for a veteran goalie to attempt the impossible job of filling Roy's skates. Instead, Lacroix expressed confidence in incumbent David Aebischer and top prospect Phil Sauve. He then went out and shook up the hockey world with a double signing that even rocked the Rocky Mountains.