NHL '03-'04: Kariya, Selanne change Avalanche

Updated: October 3, 2003, 2:35 PM ET

DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic was at home in British Columbia when his telephone rang.

It was his friend and Olympic teammate Paul Kariya, calling to deliver some news: Kariya was heading to Colorado -- and Teemu Selanne was going with him.

Sakic and nearly everyone else in the NHL was stunned.

Already one of the league's elite teams, the Avalanche pulled off a real coup: They signed two of the top free-agent forwards on the same day.

Time to shuffle the list of Stanley Cup favorites.

"Obviously, it was very exciting," Sakic said. "Who wouldn't be excited to get two players like that?"

Colorado has won two Stanley Cup titles since 1996 and a record nine straight division titles, but a down year was expected with the retirement of goalie Patrick Roy in the offseason.

Signing Selanne and Kariya changed that in a hurry.

They used to be linemates with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and teamed up during the offseason in an effort to reunite.

Adding that pair to a roster that already included Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk was sort of like adding Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It's definitely put them a step up there," Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano said. "There is certainly a lot of talent, a lot of speed and a lot of skill."

Selanne is a nine-time All-Star who led San Jose with 28 goals and 64 points last season. The speedy Kariya, a seven-time All-Star, had 25 goals and 56 points to help Anaheim reach the Stanley Cup finals.

Colorado already has its line of Forsberg, the defending league scoring champ, top goalscorer Hejduk and Alex Tanguay. That group was the most productive in the league, combining for 105 goals and 166 assists.

And now Selanne and Kariya will be paired with Sakic, a former league and playoff MVP.

"The top six forwards they put together are going to be scary," Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "In a league where it's hard to score goals, there's going to be a lot of nights where they're not going to have any problems scoring. They're going to be exciting and dangerous."

And Colorado didn't exactly have to recruit Selanne and Kariya. The pair approached the Avalanche.

In July, Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix got a call from Don Baizley, the agent for Selanne and Kariya. He told Lacroix that the wingers wanted to come to Colorado and would take a pay cut.

"I don't know how you can say 'No' to this kind of deal," Selanne said. "It's bad business if you don't."

Selanne signed a one-year deal for $5.8 million, which was $700,000 less than the Sharks offered him to return. Kariya came at the bargain-basement price of $1.2 million, keeping him under the league average so he can remain a free agent again next year.

It was an unheard of deal in today's pay-me-now world of professional sports.

Selanne and Kariya had been friends since they first met as teammates with Anaheim in 1996, and played five seasons together before Selanne was traded to San Jose in 2001.

Even as opponents they remained friends, often talking on the phone several times a month.

"We were hoping that there would be a chance again," Selanne said. "Before this deal, Anaheim for sure was one of my options."

It never got to that point.

The Finnish Flash became a free agent after declining a $6.5 million offer from the Sharks. Kariya was a restricted free agent with the Mighty Ducks, but that changed after the team declined to make him a qualifying offer.

"As soon as we had the opportunity, we were on the phone," Kariya said.

And that's when they decided to package themselves to prospective teams. They decided that any team that didn't want one player would be eliminated.

When they began talking about where they wanted to go, "At almost at the same time, we said Colorado," Selanne said.

Who could blame them?

At a time when the NHL had become filled with neutral-zone traps and a defense-first mentality, the Avalanche remained a finesse team. Sure, Roy was one of the greatest goalies in league history, but puck-handling and speed helped them win the 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cups.

"It was a perfect fit," Kariya said.

The Avalanche thought so, too, signing the wingers just two days after the free agency period started. It was a move that instantly changed Colorado's outlook and might even alter the way the game is played.

"We want to try and bring back offensive hockey to the league," Kariya said. "When I was a fan growing up, that's what I wanted to watch. I wanted to watch the Oilers and teams like that scoring goals, and we want to try and get that back in the NHL."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index