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By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's safe to say Lightning general manager Rick Dudley and Coyotes general manager Cliff Fletcher will be driving hard bargains today.
They will make the long drive from Phoenix, where they met Sunday night, to Palm Springs, Calif., for the general managers meetings.
Both said Tampa Bay's attempt to trade for Phoenix goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin might not be the main topic of discussion.
"We worked together. We are friends," Fletcher told the Arizona Republic. "Mind you, that doesn't mean we won't talk (trade). If he does, we'll listen."
Dudley told the newspaper any trade proposals will not include the Lightning's first-round pick in the June draft, captain Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards or Fredrik Modin.
"We think we can make a deal," Dudley said. "But if we do, it's not going to include (those players)."
Of the visit Lightning president Ron Campbell had with Khabibulin last week, Dudley said, "We heard erroneous reports that Nik was out of shape. We didn't believe it. We said to Ron (who was in Phoenix on a previously planned golf trip) to have lunch with him and see what he looks like."
Khabibulin is sitting out his second consecutive season because of a contract dispute. He was asking Phoenix for a three-year, $12-million deal. There also have been reports that he and his agent Jay Grossman were demanding to be paid in full for this season.
While that apparently was true for the Coyotes, it is not for the eight teams vying for Khabibulin.
Dudley said the cost will not deter Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment: "I know it doesn't scare our guys."
Fletcher, a former Lightning adviser, said he plans to deal Khabibulin by the March 13 trade deadline "if we're happy with the return. If not, I guess he won't be playing until next year."
WHERE'S GOOSE?: Defenseman Sergey Gusev was scratched for the 10th consecutive game and the 16th time in the past 20. "He had a chance to play and didn't play that well, frankly," coach John Tortorella said of Gusev's past few times in the lineup.
"I thought I was playing okay," said Gusev, who has one goal, no assists and is minus-3 in 16 games. "Not great, but okay. But they expect more from me. It's what I have to do."
Gusev said his surgically repaired right knee has not been a problem.