Expansion, goalie Patrick Roy's run at the record book and Mark Messier's return to the New York Rangers will be on display when the curtain rises on the NHL's 2000-01 season.
But the first puck of the season drops in Dallas -- the same place last season came to a sudden end.
Less than four months after New Jersey's Jason Arnott beat Dallas goalie Ed Belfour in double overtime to win the Stanley Cup, Reunion Arena welcomes the Colorado Avalanche, the team the Stars beat to advance to the finals the last two seasons.
"There is a real respect level between the teams," Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said Tuesday. "There is a really intense individual competition."
The Stars and Avalanche, who battled through consecutive seven-game Western Conference finals, will play the NHL opener Wednesday night -- the only game on the schedule.
"Their team is the best so far out of the gate," Hitchcock said of the Avalanche. "They're already in midseason form."
Wednesday's opener starts a season in which Minnesota and Columbus join the league and Messier comes back to the Rangers.
The NHL resumes a regular schedule on Thursday, with Ottawa at Boston, Chicago at Buffalo, Vancouver at Philadelphia, Detroit at Calgary and St. Louis at Phoenix. All 30 teams, including expansion clubs Columbus and Minnesota, will play by Saturday.
Minnesota is back in the league for the first time since the North Stars packed for Dallas after the 1992-93 season. The Wild start with a two-game road trip that will take them to Anaheim on Friday and Phoenix on Saturday. Minnesota will play its first home game on Oct. 11 against Philadelphia.
The Blue Jackets play their first game Saturday night when the Chicago Blackhawks come to Columbus.
The additions of Minnesota and Columbus conclude the latest round of expansion, which also brought Atlanta and Nashville into the league in the past two seasons. Since the first expansion in 1967, the NHL has grown from the "Original Six" franchises to 30.
While commissioner Gary Bettman welcomes Minnesota back, New York will cheer the return of Messier to the Rangers when they play their home opener Oct. 11. Just as when Messier first came to New York, the Rangers will be on the road for a game (Saturday at Atlanta) before No. 11 can pull on his home white jersey.
Arnott's sudden-death goal in Game 6 of the Cup finals ended Dallas' hope of repeating as league champion. The Devils begin their bid for two straight titles when they raise their championship banner at home against the Montreal Canadiens, owners of 23 Stanley Cups, on Friday night.
Nashville and Pittsburgh open with a two-game series in Japan on Friday and Saturday at midnight (EDT).
Seven new coaches will begin new jobs this week: Alpo Suhonen (Chicago), Don Hay (Calgary), Dave King (Columbus), Craig MacTavish (Edmonton), Jacques Lemaire (Minnesota), Ron Low (Rangers) and Ivan Hlinka (Pittsburgh).
The Boston Bruins will open a season without Ray Bourque for the first time since he was a rookie in 1979. Bourque re-signed with the Avalanche after he was dealt by the Bruins late last season so he could have a chance to win his first championship ring.
The Avalanche start a countdown on opening night as Roy needs only four victories to reach 448 and break Terry Sawchuk's career victory record.
"The wins is one thing," Hitchcock said, "but Patrick has done it in such a short period of time. The winning percentage is amazing.
The NHL will use the two-referee system in all 1,230 games this season, but linesmen no longer will call double-minor, instigator or checking-from-behind penalties.
"We have revamped our standards of enforcement for slashing and obstruction," Bettman said. "We have heightened our commitment to reducing hits to the head and hits from behind."
And gone is the regulation tie, but in name only. A point will still be earned for reaching overtime, a loss in the extra five-minute session will simply be known as an overtime loss.
"We have revised the standings format, so hopefully it is more fan-friendly," Bettman said. "We did a lot of fine-tuning over the summer."
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