Todd Hartley: Rocky Mountain state of shock | AspenTimes.com
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Todd Hartley: Rocky Mountain state of shock

Well, here it is a week later, and I am still shocked, I mean blown-away shocked, about the Colorado Avalanche’s signing of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. This is the biggest news in hockey since the 1980 miracle on ice, as far as I’m concerned.

So if I stumble over my words a bit during the course of this column, you’ll understand why. I’m not fully in charge of my faculties at the moment. And I’m not even that big of a fan of the Avalanche.

I have one friend, a huge fan, who very nearly killed himself after Minnesota bounced Colorado from the playoffs, and for weeks afterward he wandered through life in a deep depression. Now he’s walking around with a permanent grin plastered on his face, and he’s taken to using the term “Selanne!” as a greeting.

This unprecedented concurrent signing of two of the NHL’s top forwards makes the Avalanche by far the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup next season. Kariya and Selanne will join Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay to form an offensive arsenal the likes of which hockey has never seen.

Put it this way: If Patrick Roy doesn’t want to come out of retirement and play with that kind of talent, he’s truly out of his gourd. I imagine last season’s backup goalie, David Aebischer, is already plotting ways to keep St. Patrick retired.

Hell, Ray Bourque should come out of retirement for a year just to play with all that firepower.

But the best part of the deal is that it is, undeniably, without any shadow of a doubt, not about the money. And this may be the first time in the history of sports that statement could be made with a straight face.

Both men took cuts in pay because they wanted to come play together in a good situation. (By the way, Avalanche general manager Pierre LaCroix should be canonized for fostering such a situation.) Selanne signed for only a few hundred thousand less than he made last season, but Kariya will be making $8.8 million less.

Oh, don’t worry too much about him. He’ll still be making $1.2 million next season, just not the cool $10 million he made with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

The great news is that this new ungreedy attitude suddenly seems to be catching on in other sports. Supposedly two of the NBA’s all-time greatest bridesmaids, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, with about 100 years’ experience and zero NBA titles between them, are headed to Los Angeles to join the Lakers. Both would be making considerably less money in L.A. than they could make elsewhere.

Adding Malone, perhaps the greatest power forward ever, and Payton, perhaps the greatest defensive point guard ever, to the Lakers’ nucleus of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant clearly would put L.A. back in position to regain the crown it ceded to San Antonio last month.

Of course, there could be a little pothole in the road on the Lakers’ run to a fourth title in five years. I’m speaking, of course, about the other big sports news to come out of Colorado recently.

In case you somehow haven’t heard, and I can’t see how that’s possible, Bryant was arrested this week for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel room near Vail.

The real facts of the case have yet to come out, but this much we do know: The Eagle County Sheriff’s Department has not leveled charges against Bryant for the moment. The department notified Bryant of their intent to seek his arrest the day before they did so, and supposedly Bryant has been nothing but cooperative from the start.

The fact that Bryant has been cooperating with authorities should come as no surprise. It seems as in character with what we know of Kobe to date as this arrest seems out of character. And that’s why I have a little problem with this whole story.

Bryant, in his seven years in the NBA, has never been anything but a model citizen. He’s well-spoken in two languages, bright, civic-minded and very protective of his sterling image. I no more believe he raped a woman than I believe O.J. Simpson was innocent.

Celebrities like Bryant make easy targets for women hoping to squeeze some money out of them or gain a little publicity for themselves. I feel that when the facts of this case come to light, we will find that Kobe is innocent of the allegations.

And if it turns out Bryant did rape her, well … as you can probably guess, I’d be shocked.

[Todd Hartley wants to say a big “Selanne!” to his no-longer-despondent pal Steve Johnson. His (Hartley’s) column appears on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at todd@aspentimes.com]


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