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Puck-handling proposal is 'silly'

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 13, 2004

TAMPA - Tampa Bay's John Grahame, one of the better puck-handling goalies, better get a move on if he wants to score a goal. A proposed rule change would prohibit goaltenders from playing the puck. It is hoped the rule would force the defense to play the puck, allow the opposition to better establish a forecheck and create scoring chances.

Grahame called it "silly. It's like saying to someone who can shoot the puck, "Don't shoot it that hard."'

Grahame said goalies who handle the puck help create scoring chances.

"You spend more time in the offensive zone," he said. "You get the puck, gone, and you go on an offensive chance."

Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin said puck-handling goalies limit an opposition's offense, but the solution is not a rules change.

"Maybe," he said, "players just have to do better dumps (into the offensive zone) so the goalies can't stop it."

Khabibulin has worked hard to improve his stick-handling but didn't appear too upset he could be relived of that duty.

"I guess I'm going to have lighter practices then," he said.

As for scoring a goal, Grahame said, laughing, "I'm going to have to start pressing now."

WHISTLE STOP: The puck-handling rule is just one to be considered for next season along with moving the nets 3 feet closer to the end boards and shrinking goalie-pad width by 2 inches.

The changes are intended to produce more offense.

Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella has a better plan: "Take some of the whistles out of the game.

"If you take away some of the whistles in the game, you're going to have tired players. You're not going to have the matches you want and you're going to have more flow to the game. And you'll have breakdowns."

Tortorella likes the idea of reinstating the touch-up offside rule that, basically, allows offside players to get onside and avoid a play stoppage by exiting the offensive zone. He also said goalies should not be able to freeze the puck at will.

"Once the goalie can't tie it up, it's in the offensive zone and there will be breakdowns," he said. "If we simplify it and not worry about the lines and the equipment, and get some of the whistles out of the game, there will be breakdowns and more scoring."

HEALTH ISSUE: Brad Richards played his 300th game. The center has not missed a game because of injury in his three-plus seasons. He missed two last season after the death of his grandmother.

"To hit 300 this quick, it's worth working out and taking care of your body," Richards said.

Richards, with right wing Martin St. Louis and center Vinny Lecavalier are on a list of 54 players to be considered for Canada's World Cup team.

"Obviously, it's the first of many steps," Richards said. "But to get recognized like that ... and to know (Canada executive director) Wayne Gretzky is watching you is fun."

ODDS AND ENDS: General manager Jay Feaster was given the Alumni Award for Achievement at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Feaster, 41, graduated Summa Cum Laude from the school in 1984 with a political science degree. ... Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray (knee) was out. ... Tampa Bay left wing Andre Roy and defensemen Nolan Pratt and Darren Rumble were scratched.

[Last modified February 13, 2004, 01:45:34]

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