While the summer heat waves are in full effect, so is the NHL off season. As is the case every year at this time, teams are avidly looking at the pool of talent (or lack thereof) and offering obscene amounts of money for their services. You see it in every sport, not just hockey. What is one teamís garbage will become another teamís treasure. It will be a story of "win the Stanley Cup or bust" for twenty-nine teams, and a situation of "letís do it all over again" for one team.

Now is it just me or has this off season been just totally nuts?

This year, teams seem to have found a new way to get compensation for their unrestricted free agents: trade them to a team that has no intention of signing them. Curtis Joseph, Tie Domi, Ed Belfour, Theo Fleury, and Mike Richter were all players that fell into this category. The idea here is a player gets traded to a team that either canít afford to sign or has no intention of signing them. In return, a draft pick or two for the future.

The thing I find funny here is teams are buying into it. Nashville was first to get into the act, trading David Gosselin and draft picks to Dallas for Cameron Mann and the rights to Ed Belfour. Belfour would eventually sign with Toronto to replace Curtis Joseph. Joseph was a member of the Calgary Flames for a whole twenty-four hours before he signed with Detroit to fill the void left by the retirement of Dominik Hasek. The Leafs ultimately won big time here. While they lost Joseph, they at least got a draft pick for him and ended up with another draft pick for Tie Domi, only to have him re-sign with the club because "I canít picture myself playing anywhere else". They were able to replace Joseph with Belfour, and hopefully it pans out even half as well. I personally think it wonít. You cannot compare the team the Leafs have now to that Dallas Stars team in 2000, but then again, the Leafs made it to the conference finals with a battered and bruised team that should now be healthy for the most part. Belfour states that his favorite team growing up was, you guessed it, the Leafs. It will be very interesting to see how this pans out. The Toronto team has not really changed too much from the team that went to the Eastern Conference final series. They did add more of a veteran presence with the likes of Robert Svehla, who came out of semi-retirement in Florida to play for at least another year. They gave up on injury-plagued Dmitri Yuskevich to get him. Nashvilleís former first ever captain and former Chicago Blackhawk, Tom Fitzgerald, has also signed with the Leafs.

As expected, the teams that were expected to shell out the big money for the big names did just that. The New York Rangers as always were busy, this time around managing to lure Bobby Holik into Madison Square Garden with a huge five year deal worth a whopping forty-five million. The very next day they further opened up the vaults and ended up with Darius Kasparaitis on defense. This deal was worth twenty-seven million over six years. Mike Richter will be back, as he has also re-signed with the club. Musical-clubs-rent-a-player Ted Donato will also join the Rangers. He joins his eighth NHL club, but is still looking to better his output from 1993-94 when he had a career year as a member of the Boston Bruins. The Rangers already have a potent offense with Lindros and Bure.  Theo Fleury has essentially worn out his welcome in the Big Apple.  Rumors have him going to San Jose, Nashville, St. Louis or Chicago.  Even so, you can almost guarantee that the Rangers will be back in the playoffs next year. Itís beginning to sound all too much like a broken record, so Iíll call it a fifty/fifty shot, just on principle. You cannot buy the Stanley Cup, you must win it.

The Dallas Stars, clearly not learning from the misfortunes of New York, not to mention themselves, also opened up their supposedly huge wallets and ended up with arguably the two biggest names on the free agent market and possibly the biggest one-two punch this side of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, not to mention Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman. Bill Guerin signed with the club for another reported forty-five million over five years, and Scott Young has been reunited with Pierre Turgeon, at least for two years anyway. Now let me get this straight. You have two potential threatening scoring lines here. Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano and Guerin is a scary first line if they actually use it. Then weíll have a possible second line combo of Turgeon and Young and insert winger here. Thereís only one problem here. Belfour is gone. Marty Turco will battle newcomer Ron Tugnutt for the starter job in Dallas. Perhaps I can butt in here with a suggestion. Play them both equally or trade for Hasek. Oops, I forgot, heís retired. With all that said, the Stars should be a contender again, but they have to make the playoffs first. Hereís hoping itís money well spent, unless by some strange twist of fate they happen to meet the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs again.

Washington, trying to learn from the mistake of acquiring Jaromir Jagr last year, has reunited him with Robert Lang. Well it isnít Mario Lemieux, but Washington already has Michael Jordan. Lang will get close to a 100% raise, as he accepted a five year twenty-five million deal. Kip Miller, another former Penguin, will also play here.

Carolina, the Eastern Conference champion, really surprised me with one of their off season moves. Theyíve kept Ron Francis, Bret Hedican and Jeff OíNeill in the fold (for now), but they let one of their biggest fish get away. Martin Gelinas has signed with the Calgary Flames, of all places. While Calgary needs badly to make the playoffs this year, I never thought it could end up being at the expense of the Stanley Cup runners-up. Plus, the Hurricanes have allowed Sami Kapanen and Aaron Ward to go to arbitration, so perhaps the storm hasnít yet passed.

Colorado may have lost Kasparaitis, but theyíve decided to keep the rest of their team intact by signing eight of their remaining free agents, most notably Dan Hinote, Brad Larsen and Bryan Muir. They also signed goalie Peter Budaj, drafted in 2000-01. If it hasnít already started, speculation of Patrick Royís retirement canít be far behind.

Phoenix will be a much improved team yet again, signing Tony Amonte to a four year contract worth 24 million. Theyíve also got Kelly Buchberger, former captain of the Edmonton Oilers and Atlanta Thrashers. Last year he played for the Los Angeles Kings. If Wayne Gretzky has anything to do with it, this team will be a contender before too long, however, I need an explanation for the trade of Robert Esche and Michal Handzus to Philly for Brian Boucher. Iím still scratching my head over that one.

The Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings took a step towards helping solidify their dominance over the league by re-signing Chris Chelios. Ironically enough, two other defensemen, Uwe Krupp and Fredrik Olausson, decided to sign elsewhere, both with expansion teams, Atlanta and Anaheim respectively. Weíve also mentioned CuJo signing to replace Hasek. Steve Yzerman will be out until at least Christmas recovering from knee surgery. Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, "Lucky" Luc Robitaille and Steve Duchesne will be back. Fedorov has decided to join Anna Kournikova on the tennis courtsÖjust kidding. It all boils down to this: if CuJo ends up the suitable replacement for Hasek everyone is expecting, we could probably fast forward to next June and see the cup being raised by Detroit yet again. However, Dallas, Colorado, Phoenix and even San Jose will have a thing or two to say beforehand.

Letís not forget to mention the biggest trade of the summer so far. Anaheim and New Jersey were involved in a blockbuster deal involving seven players. The Ducks get winger Petr Sykora, defenseman Mike Commodore, goalie J.F. Damphousse and prospect Igor Pohanka. To the Devils in return are winger Jeff Freisen, former first round drafted defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky and winger Maxim Balmochnykh. For the sake of the Devilsí play by play announcer, I hope they donít have to pronounce that name too often. The trade should benefit both teams to a certain degree. The Devils lose Holik, but gain experience in Freisen and a solid D-man in Tverdovsky. The Ducks not only get a proven winger in Sykora, but they get a goalie for the future and a proven D-man in Commodore. Not to mention that they signed Adam Oates as a free agent from Philadelphia. The Ducks need to make the playoffs and it is clear they are taking steps to do so, but then they go and send Steve Shields to Boston. Hello Anaheim, can somebody please tell me who is going to man the pipes over there? Giguere you say? Anybody got a game show buzzer I can borrow?

The Devils re-signed Patrik Elias in an attempt to keep at least some of their offense. Itís hard to say which direction the Devils are taking here, but with Pat Burns as coach it shouldnít be too hard to guess that they will at least contend for a playoff spot.

Two weeks after coming back from my summer vacation I heard the funniest news Iíve heard in years. Anybody remember Alexandre Daigle, the former first round bomb, er I mean draft pick? When Randy Sexton signed this guy to a $12.5 million deal in 1993, he set the stage for NHL salaries to skyrocket. Had it not been for this irresponsible deal (and if the Senators at the time had the clout to send him to the minors his first year like every other draft pick since) I am convinced that things would have been different. Then again, somebody sometime had to end up the victim of a ridiculous deal, and Daigle just so happened to be it. You couldnít help but feel sorry for poor Daigle as he tried to live up to the hype surrounding this deal and failed miserably. Watching him play I was certain if he would have just been given a chance he could have made it eventually (look at Bonk and even Yashin now). When he was finally traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, around Ottawa you got the good riddance vibe, but I analyzed it this way: how would Ottawa feel if somehow the Flyers and Senators met in the playoffs and ended up in an overtime situation, Game 7 and Daigle somehow miraculously came through and scored? Thankfully it never happened, probably due to the great Lindros saga (donít forget Daigle ended up on the infamous Legion of Doom line for about seventy-two hours). Daigle subsequently never fit in and was traded twice more to Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers before finally being sent down to the minors. After that, he decided to retire from hockey and move on to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. In his spare time he ended up playing roller hockey in Los Angeles. Now hockey fans, I hope youíre sitting down, because the San Jose Sharks, arguably a significant contender next year, have offered this guy a tryout and have signed him to a free agent contract. What this means is he could either make the team, or end up playing for the Sharksí affiliate in Cleveland. I myself canít help but wonder if this deal is so crazy that it just might work. I know itís made headlines around the hockey world thatís for sure. It will be interesting to see if Daigle can make it to a checking line role or even as an occasional call-up between the minors and the big league. Time will tell. I am predicting big things for Daigle in his comeback bid. It obviously wonít be of Mario Lemieux proportions, but look for him to at least make a significant impact. Iím predicting heíll figure in the top fifteen in scoring on the Sharks roster, and by 2005 he will be a top scorer in the league. Am I getting a little too far ahead of myself? Maybe, but thereís no question this guy had potential when he was drafted. Perhaps a break was exactly what the doctor ordered. Weíll have to wait for training camp and preseason to find out for sure. Maybe they can play him with Teemu Selanne, who clearly is not "Finnished" in Shark land as he re-signed despite being offered more money from undisclosed sources. Oh by the way, due to the Compaq/HP merger, the Compaq Center as we knew it will now be referred to as the HP Pavillion. While I wonder profusely what will happen with the Houston arena, there is no NHL hockey being played there so it shouldnít matter.

For the most part, the big names have already been signed. We will see most, if not all remaining free agents signed within the coming weeks. Most arbitration and contract disputes will (hopefully) be resolved. The last thing a player wants to do is sit out when they could be contributing on the ice. As has been demonstrated, the mentality of most teams is win and win now, even if it means breaking the bank.

Of course as we already know, only one team will win the Stanley Cup. It has already been predicted that the East doesnít hold a candle to the West, but that will also remain to be seen. I for one am eagerly awaiting the dog days of summer to pass so we can drop the puck on a new season.

A closer look at who has gone where can be found here:

The upcoming season schedule has also been released and can be found here: Itís coming faster than you think! (Woo Hoo!!)

I'm Adam Hill for Puckin' Around


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