Gotta love this brand new NHL

KIRK PENTON

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

Isn't this just absolutely wonderful?

Over the last five days, the NHL has been a lot like Christmas: Fans wake up in the morning and find that shiny new player under the tree. You know, the one their team had absolutely no chance of signing in the old days.

Chris Pronger in Edmonton? Wow! Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim? Amazing! Paul Kariya in Nashville? Unbelievable!

The list goes on and on.

The result, we all hope and envision, is a competitive NHL like we've never seen before. All this exciting free-agent action might even make fans forgive the league for its lockout -- maybe.

The Oilers have to be considered a huge winner so far. Pronger and Michael Peca have some good years left, and they didn't have to give much up to get them.

The Calgary Flames locked up Jarome Iginla, but getting a proven winner like Darren McCarty and a sniper like Tony Amonte, who should pick it up a bit with the new rules, is huge.

The Philadelphia Flyers stealing Peter Forsberg from the Colorado Avalanche was a great move, because it's only going to make them the beasts of the East.

As for the losers, well, Colorado fits into this category for replacing Forsberg with dinosaur Pierre Turgeon.

The New York Rangers picked up ... Martin Rucinsky?

And the Toronto Maple Leafs, well, are they still in the league?

ICINGS: Brad May signed with the Colorado Avalanche yesterday. I guess that means Steve Moore won't be coming back to the Avs anytime soon ... Sidney Crosby's appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno the other night was solid. Sure, he's been in the spotlight for a while now, but it looked like ice was running through his veins. He made the audience laugh a few times and the bit with the dryer was funny. He's done the NHL a service for performing well on national U.S. television. All he has to do now is save the league ... Congrats to Randy Carlyle for snagging the Anaheim Mighty Ducks head coaching job. An even bigger congrats to the local media who cover the Moose.

LATE HITS: We're movin' on up! The Sporting News, in its annual survey, ranked Winnipeg as the 338th best sports city in North America in 2004. That's awesome, because in 2003 it was deemed No. 367 out of 370 locales. The only problem is Hamilton, at 319, beat us again, and St. John's, Nfld., landed at 333 ... For the record, some of the places that are better sports towns than Winnipeg include Eastlake, Ohio (308), McAllen, Texas (325) and a place called Kinston, N.C. (321). That stings ... Is nothing sacred anymore? A recent Foxsports.com fantasy baseball report about L.A. Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe included his marital problems. Lowe is being accused of having an affair with a Fox Sports News reporter, who has since been removed from the beat after Lowe's wife complained of a conflict of interest. "This may help explain why Lowe hasn't been pitching particularly well this year," the report noted, "although the ongoing blister problems he's having are of concern as well."


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