Familiar faces in new places
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In one fell swoop, Lacroix put together perhaps the League's most daunting offense by signing Kariya away from the Mighty Ducks and Selanne away from San Jose. The two forwards had played together previously in Anaheim and were keen to rekindle the relationship one more time. The Avalanche were delighted to give them the opportunity. Now, Colorado coach Tony Granato can mix and match among six top-notch forwards. Conventional wisdom says Granato will open the season with Joe Sakic centering for Kariya and Selanne, while keeping intact the Avalanche's other top line of Peter Forsberg centering Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay.
"I really enjoyed my time playing in Anaheim," Kariya said after joining the Avalanche. "I have a lot of close bonds with my teammates and with Bryan Murray and Mike Babcock. It was a very difficult decision but at the same time, like I said, when I was made unrestricted and I spoke to Teemu, we talked about what would be the best situation for us hockey-wise, taking out everything else. And for both of us, it was Colorado. Instantaneously. So it's nothing against Anaheim. It's a hockey decision that we wanted to come here."
Adding Kariya and Selanne weren't the only changes made to the Avalanche roster. Defensemen Greg de Vries, Bryan Marchment and Bryan Muir hit the road as unrestricted free agents, signing with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings, respectively. Colorado signed Karlis Skrastins, who played for Nashville last season, and acquired prospect Keith Ballard from Buffalo in a three-way deal that sent winger Steven Reinprecht to Calagary. Skrastins and Ballard should fill the gaps on defense.
Also seen leaving Colorado were veteran Eric Messier and Vaclav Nedorost, who were traded to the Florida Panthers in exchange for tough guy winger Peter Worrell.
Another very active team this off-season was the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were in the middle of a three-way deal with Phoenix and Dallas that brought defenseman Darryl Sydor to Ohio. GM Doug MacLean also was busy in the free-agent market, importing center Todd Marchant from Edmonton and Trevor Letowski from Vancouver while seeing Ray Whitney sign on in Detroit and Mike Sillinger head to Phoenix in the Sydor deal.
In Dallas, the Stars' defense will have a new look with the departures of Hatcher and Sydor, two mainstays from the team's 1999 Stanley Cup championship. Stepping in will be a pair of longtime veterans, Teppo Numminen, who came across from the Phoenix Coyotes, and Don Sweeney, who signed on as a free agent after spending his entire career with the Boston Bruins.
Nashville Predators GM David Poile spent his summer hosting the Entry Draft and blowing up his team's defense. Say goodbye to Bill Houlder, Cale Hulse, Andy Delmore, Skrastins, Peter Smrek and Alexander Riazantsev. Say hello to Curtis Murphy, acquired from Minnesota and Ray Schultz, signed as a free agent from the Islanders. Kimmo Timonen was re-signed to anchor the unit and will be joined by Mark Eaton, Jason York, Tomas Klocek and Marek Zidlicky. Former top draft pick Dan Hamhuis figures to get a long look too.
In Los Angeles, the Kings will have a new look in goal after acquiring Roman Cechmanek from the Philadelphia Flyers and they will have a familiar face in winger Luc Robitaille, who signed on for his third tenure with the team after a couple seasons in Detroit.
Things were a little quieter in the Eastern Conference this off-season with a couple exceptions.
The Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils are revamping their defense in a big way. Veteran Ken Daneyko retired over the summer and Oleg Tverdovsky, Tommy Albelin and Richard Smehlik were not re-signed. The Devils signed Sean Brown from the Boston Bruins and also signed three past draft choices - David Hale, Matt DeMarchi and Paul Martin - who the Devils believe will be the defense of the future.
In Buffalo, the Sabres made a big-time swap in a three-way deal with Colorado and Calgary that brought centers Chris Drury and Steve Begin from the Flames. The Sabres also added Delmore from Nashville to add some offensive pop from the backline and some physical pop from Joel Bouchard, signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh.
The Penguins, in a full-blown youth movement, did heave a sigh of relief when Mario Lemieux announced he would play again. The Pens also buttressed their young lineup by signing a pair of veterans in Kelly Buchberger and Mike Eastwood who should help ease the transition of new coach Ed Olczyk, a first-timer behind an NHL bench.
Those are just some of the changes that greet fans as the new season dawns. So make sure you have your program, it's no longer an option, but a necessity.