Remember when the off season was a time when nobody talked about hockey, except for perhaps a Wayne Gretzky or Chris Chelios trade?  Remember when summer meant big money for big names?  Not anymore.  The mentality of most teams is get payroll under control, to hell with the big names.  After all, if they canít do it now, how will they ever be able to do it next year when the collective bargaining agreement is restructured?

You need look no further than Stanley Cup Finalist Anaheim, as they did not make a qualifying offer for either their star player Paul Kariya, or veterans Adam Oates and Steve Thomas.  Then along comes the Colorado Avalanche to scoop up not only Kariya, but also Teemu Selanne from San Jose.  So now the dynamic duo is reunited to once again form the biggest one-two punch in the league (or at least they hope so).  Add Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg to the mix and you can forget the Legion of Doom ever existed.

The intriguing thing here is Kariya was asked to take a paycut in Anaheim and didnít, but ended up taking one anyway in Colorado.  This begs the question was he truly happy as a Duck?  I personally donít think so.  All the Avalanche need now is a goaltender.  Word on the street is Pierre Lacroix still hasnít been told Patrick Roy retired.

In Detroit, Sergei Fedorov has essentially been told to take his business elsewhere.  I canít say we didnít see this coming.  The Red Wings have always had problems signing this so-called high profile player who only produces when he wants to.  Like Alexei Yashin from back in his Ottawa days, Detroit is essentially saying theyíve had enough.  On the other hand, Dominik Hasek apparently appreciates what he has in this league, as he will return after a one year hiatus.  The Red Wings welcome him back with open arms.  Solidifying Detroitís defense is newcomer Derian Hatcher, who most likely has left Mike Modano the sole heir of the captaincy in Dallas.  Maybe now Hatcher wonít be as big a target and will actually keep the puck out of his own end, but at what cost?

Columbus is making strides towards a playoff spot, or so they think, as they signed both Todd Marchant from Edmonton and Trevor Letowski from Vancouver

Last yearís tactic of trade a playerís rights to a team who has no intention of signing them seems to be back in the mix this year.  Already the Rangers have sent the rights of two players packing, Brian Leetch to Edmonton for goaltender Jussi Markannen, and Mark Messier to San Jose for future considerations.  And theyíre not done on Broadway.  Thereís speculation Eric Lindros could be part of a deal to get Cujo into a Rangers uniform.  More to come.

I hear the fans now.  Theyíre all saying ďwhy, why?Ē  Iíll tell you why.  The NHL has a problem with payroll and needs to get a salary cap implemented, and teams are taking initiative now rather than later, or are they?  Ultimately it has to be done, and players will have to realize their stock in the league is going to have to go down twofold or even threefold if they want to play, period. 

Then you have the Colorados, Detroits and New Yorks to put a monkey wrench in everybodyís program.  It has to stop and now.

I'm inclined to believe the biggest deals are yet to be made.  It seems every team is waiting for everybody else to make a move.  With the moves Colorado made, all of a sudden everybody now considers them contenders again.  Did I miss something here?

For the most part, teams are taking care of their own signings and discarding with players they no longer feel can hold the fort, but here are a few from the rumor mill which could actually materialize. 

Iíve mentioned Lindros for Cujo.  This could actually turn into a three way deal where Mike Dunham gets sent packing from New York.  Another possibility has Cujo moving back to his roots in St. Louis.  He is the odd man out in Detroit with Hasek returning between the pipes.  There was talk of him winding up in Philadelphia, but they seem to have boycotted the idea by signing Jeff Hackett.

As for Fedorov in Detroit, Iím hearing rumblings out of Anaheim.  Think it wonít happen?  Why then did they clear out over $10 million in salary money?  Were they being responsible or just making room for jello?  Then again, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and even Tampa Bay are possibilities, so I wouldnít read too much into the aftershocks until something happens.  What we do know is thereís very little chance of Sergei playing in Detroit ever again.

One possible replacement for Patrick Roy has Montreal sending Jose Theodore to Colorado for Joe Sakic or even a couple of players bundled with draft picks.  It seems our Hart trophy winning friend has had more than a few run-ins with the law lately, and word from the Habs is they want to make the playoffs next year.  Iím not sure if getting rid of their top goaltender is the answer, but then again, if any of the stories Iíve been hearing are half true, we canít keep this guy in the NHL, let alone another team.  Weíll be watching this one closely, but maybe itís just an over reaction on the part of Montrealís friendly neighborhood media.  Stranger things have happened, just ask Roy.

Fresh from winning the Stanley Cup in New Jersey, Joe Nieuwendyk has let it be known he wants to play out his career on a Canadian team, namely the Toronto Maple Leafs.  If the Leafs go for it, the deal would make sense, as he would have familiar company in the locker room with Gary Roberts from his Calgary days and the Leafs would finally have a legitimate second line centre.  Problem is, the Leafs donít appear to want him.  Their fear is Nieuwendykís leadership would add too much wood to the fire, not to mention his relationship with Pat Quinn in the past hasnít necessarily been anything youíd write home about.  So then I started to think about it.  If he canít sign in Toronto, maybe he can sign either in Montreal or Ottawa.  I give the nod to Ottawa for two reasons.  One, they would greatly benefit from his presence in the locker room, and two, with Eugene Melnyk coming on board as owner, they can finally afford him.  Word out of Canadaís Capital is Melnyk is planning something really big to kick off the season, a huge bash.  Maybe a big signing is what the Senators need to take the giant step which will vault them into the finals.  I know Nieuwendyk couldnít do much for the Devils at the end, but when healthy he has proven to be a bonafide scorer who can help out any team.  He has three Stanley Cup Rings to prove it.  Is this wishful thinking on my part?  Consider this, the biggest signing the Senators have made this summer so far has been Brian Smolinksi.  They have said goodbye to Magnus Arvedson, Rob Ray, Joey Tetarenko and goaltending prospect Mathieu Chouinard.  Jody Hull is back, but is going to play/coach in Binghamton.  Denis Hamel comes over from Buffalo and could replace Arvedson.  While Jason Spezza and possibly Antoine Vermette will play next year, whatís wrong with Ottawa breaking the bank?  Heck theyíve been doing it since their inception with no money, at least now they can afford it.  Maybe Iím reading too much into this, but weíll see.

A few other signings to talk about include Brian Marchment signing with Toronto, so now the Leafs have yet another goon on their team, this after Glen Wesley bolted from SARS-ville to return to Carolina, Cale Hulse moves from Music City to the desert, signing with Phoenix, and Trent Klatt has left Canada for the city of angels, Los Angeles.

Who said the ice melts in the summer?  Has anybody else noticed the summer's already half over?

On a sadder note, itís been a tough couple of weeks for the hockey family.  First, Roger Neilson passed away, then New York Rangers forward Roman Lyashenko committed suicide while on vacation in Turkey.  Our condolences go out to the Rangers organization and Lyashenkoís family.  He was one of those players who played with consistency and looked after his side of the ice.  On a team full of so called superstars, he was probably the most underrated.  Heaven only knows he had a bright future as a hockey player, whether or not he thought so.

In any event, the NHL released their preseason schedule this past week, so the 2003-04 regular schedule canít be far behind.  For those of you suffering hockey withdrawal, I feel your pain! 

By the way, if you've been keeping score, Puckin' Around turns 30 next time around, in more ways than one!  The next installment will be my 30th, and I myself will turn 30 next month.  I'll talk to you all soon.


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