The money-hungry trend of free agency is about to hit the one sport that has been spared until now _ hockey.
Other sports have been turned upside down with rosters changing more quickly than you can say "Show me the money."
The Pittsburgh Steelers wave bye-bye each year to free agents leaving for other cities. The Cleveland Indians built a league champion, but are starting to lose their stars to owners with bigger wallets. And the Lakers replaced the Orlando Magic as an up-and-coming contender in the NBA when Shaq-fu took his act to Hollywood.
And now free agency comes to hockey and the first team that may be ripped apart is the Stanley Cup champions. Talk about bad luck. The Colorado Avalanche faces the prospect of losing not only its top player, but its top two players. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg will be free agents with compensation July 1.
Ascent Entertainment Group, which owns the Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets, is losing millions on both teams and desperately needs to get the planned Pepsi Center built so it can move the teams out of aging McNichols Sports Arena.
Forsberg is woefully underpaid at $2.075-million Canadian, of which $575,000 is his base salary. Sakic is getting $3.1-million. Worse yet for Colorado, both are represented by Don Baizley, who can play one player off the other in negotiations.
Both players said they want to stay in Colorado, but Baizley isn't sure the Avalanche will be able to sign both. That could open the door for another team looking to turn itself into an instant contender.
One such team could be the Islanders. An intriguing rumor has new owner John Spano tendering offer sheets of $25-million over five years to each player, figuring the Avalanche won't be able to match both.
Another juicy one has the Flyers going after Forsberg and letting go of Eric Lindros, who may ask for more than the Flyers can afford when his contract runs out.
Meantime, a possible sale of MSG, which owns the New York Knicks and Rangers, could throw a wrench into the Rangers' attempt to re-sign Mark Messier, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
It could be a long, hot summer.
REGULAR-SEASON PLAYOFFS: Calgary coach Pierre Page believes in some kooky motivational stuff, so he designated a seven-game span between Jan. 28 and Feb. 9 as an imaginary playoff series.
He told goalie Trevor Kidd he would start all seven games and asked the team to raise its preparation and intensity to playoff pitch.
The Flames ended up winning the series 4-3 _ which, if you're still playing along, is the first playoff series _ real or imagined _ they've won since 1989.
DESPERATE: What's in the water in Calgary anyway? The Flames are thinking about signing former Lightning forward Petr Klima, who wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh in the past six months.
"All I'll say is, it's been discussed," Calgary GM Al Coates said. "It's only natural that the topic be discussed because he's free and talented. I don't know if it's likely to happen, but we have talked about it."
Calgary hopes Klima can help fellow Czech Robert Reichel regain his scoring touch. Another possibility is trading Reichel _ perhaps to the Islanders for Travis Green.
OUT FOR NO. 1: Florida goalie Mark Fitzpatrick is fifth in the league in goals-against average (2.25) but still is the No. 2 goalie behind John Vanbiesbrouck.
He wants to be a No. 1 goalie and Florida GM Bryan Murray has told him he would make a trade if Fitzpatrick could be a starter somewhere else. But, Murray added, the other goalies in the Florida system aren't ready yet.
Fitzpatrick has one more summer as a Group II free agent before becoming unrestricted after next season, but he doesn't see that as a way out.
"Being a Group II free agent is like being stuck in a traffic jam in New York City," he said. "You're not going anywhere."
DOING THE RIGHT THING: Boston's Sheldon Kennedy, who was sexually abused by his coach during his junior days, announced plans last week for a 600-acre ranch near Fernie, British Columbia, for abused children and their parents.
"It's time to move on," said Kennedy. "We should be worrying and figuring out how we are going to make the future better for other kids."
ODDS AND ENDS: Los Angeles' leading scorer, Dimitri Khristich, will miss 10 days after laser surgery on his eye as a result of high-sticking incident in practice with teammate Barry Potomski. Potomski was sent to the minors the next day. Montreal's Stephane Richer committed heresy last week when he said there was "more to life than the Canadiens." He also said Montreal fans need to get a life. The New York Post rated the most hated sports figures in the New York area. And despite stiff competition from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Giants quarterback Dave Brown, the winner was Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who was, according to the Post, a "mystical oracle who can forecast a bad effort during the warmup. Sees all, knows all, understands all, except that players are not robots." The Avalanche had 29 shots on goal in one period _ four short of the NHL record _ last week against Los Angeles. "I kept waiting for the buzzer," Kings goalie Stephane Fiset said of facing his former teammates. Colorado ended up with 51 shots. Chicago GM Bob Pulford said he will go after one more forward before the trading deadline, but said it would not be Toronto's Doug Gilmour or Calgary's Theo Fleury.