The Mario Lemieux era has ended in Pittsburgh, the Mark Messier era is just beginning in Vancouver, and there's a new era in international relations.
They're only some of the changes for the NHL's 81st season, which begins Wednesday. More than 60 players and nine coaches changed teams, and for the third straight year, a franchise moved.
Then there's the NHL's first-time participation in the Olympics, a way for the league to increase exposure by showcasing the world's best players. Teams will break for 2 1/2 weeks in February and the league's stars will play for their countries--and in many cases against their NHL teammates--in Nagano, Japan.
But the Winter Games have raised concerns about injuries, divided locker rooms when the Olympics are over, and lost momentum for teams less than two months before the playoffs.
"You might have three Americans, three Canadians and two Russians on your team who played in the Olympics," Dallas Stars defenseman Shawn Chambers says. "There might be bad blood, and now you've got to be teammates again. It could be a little iffy."
The 1997-98 season begins less than four months after the Detroit Red Wings ended 42 years of frustration by winning the Stanley Cup.
Triumph turned to tragedy six days later: star defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov were almost killed in a limo wreck while leaving a Red Wings celebration.
Konstantinov was comatose for more than five weeks. Mnatsakanov had emerged from his coma a week earlier and both are undergoing rehabilitation. Konstantinov's locker is still filled with his equipment, skates hanging from hooks above with his pads and uniform. But it's doubtful he'll ever play again.
His loss will make it especially difficult for the champs to repeat, something a team hasn't done since Lemieux led the Penguins to two straight Cups in 1991-92.
"Not having Vladdie in our lineup leaves a huge hole," Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman says. "He's one of the best defensemen in the league. Maybe the best."
In the last six years, a total of six different teams have won the championship and 11 different teams have made it to the championship round.
The parity is the result of several factors, most notably the widespread influx of talent from abroad, plenty of good goaltending and a free-agent market that has allowed more movement of players.
Witness Messier, who moved from New York to Vancouver and suddenly made the Canucks a team to watch. The free-agent center, who has won six Stanley Cups, signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Canucks in July and has been making the transition since.
"It takes some time," Messier says. "Getting myself settled, getting a place to live, getting to know the guys better every day, obviously makes things more comfortable.
"When I was in New York I was there to play hockey and everything else took a backseat to the game itself. I'm here to play hockey again."
Some other notable free-agent signings: goaltender Ed Belfour left San Jose to join Dallas; goaltender Andy Moog left Dallas for Montreal; forward Tomas Sandstrom left Detroit for Anaheim; forward Mike Keane left Colorado and forward Brian Skrudland left Florida for the New York Rangers; forward Rick Tocchet left Washington for Phoenix; Esa Tikannen signed with Florida after a second stint with the Rangers; and defenseman Luke Richardson joined Philadelphia from Edmonton.
Joe Sakic, one of the NHL's top forwards, would have left Colorado for the Rangers if the Avalanche had not matched New York's offer sheet for the restricted free agent, which included a $15 million signing bonus.
Among the notable trades during the offseason, the Red Wings sent goaltender Mike Vernon to San Jose for a couple of draft picks. Vernon, most valuable player in the playoffs, was deemed expendable by Detroit with Chris Osgood as the No. 1 goalie and Kevin Hodson as his backup. Elsewhere, Gary Roberts, a two-time All-Star continuing a comeback from a neck injury, was traded by Calgary to the new Carolina Hurricanes in a four-player deal.
The NHL continued a trend of moving into the Sun Belt when the Hartford Whalers became the Hurricanes, who will play for two seasons in Greensboro, N.C., before moving to Raleigh, N.C. Whether hockey will succeed in an area known for its rabid football and NASCAR fans remains to be seen.
"The game will sell itself," Carolina forward Stu Grimson said. "We've talked a lot about the logo and the newness of our game to the market and I really think the guys have to look at it as a challenge. Our success first and last will determine how we're going to go over in this area."
Other areas also will be tested soon. The NHL will add four expansion teams by 2000 in Atlanta, St. Paul, Minn., Nashville, Tenn., and Columbus, Ohio.
It was one of the league's established teams that caused problems in the offseason.