From one puck-handling goalie to another

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

If Rick DiPietro runs into Martin Brodeur in the Olympic Village at Turin next February, it's probable he will ask his fellow netminder for a minute of his time.

DiPietro wouldn't mind bending the ear of Brodeur, who last month was named to the NHL's competition committee, about the rule that restricts a netminder's ability to play the puck behind the net.

"I hope they revisit this rule at the end of the year," DiPietro said when his team, the New York Islanders, was in Toronto earlier this week. "I just hate to see a skill limited. It's like telling a forward he can't take a backhand."

There is a reason why the rule grinds DiPietro's gears. Among NHL goalies, few are as good at handling the puck as Brodeur, who will start for Canada at the Olympics, and DiPietro, who likely will start for the U.S. But DiPietro makes an interesting point.

"I don't think it's one reason scoring is up, to be honest with you," he said. "It was one of the reasons I got drafted (first overall by the Islanders in 2000) -- because I could handle the puck. It's not one of the top three reasons scoring is up this year. It's not a hard rule to adapt to, but you find yourself in some awkward positions. Some goalies (handle the puck) better than others, and it's something that separates you. To limit a skill like that, it's tough."

MERRY @$#%*&! CHRISTMAS

What a grand experience it must be to wear the sweater of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Yet another bad start for the team has general manager Dale Tallon fed up, and he has acknowledged that even goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, the star prize among free-agent netminders last summer, could be had in a trade for the right price.

"I'll listen to anything on anybody," Tallon said. "That's just the way it is. I'm not going to put up with it. Enough is enough. I'm going to explore all options (on his entire roster). I'm not going to sit still. Everything that is available to us, we're going to go after."

Moving Khabibulin presumably would be difficult. He is in the first season of a four-year, $27.5-million US deal.

The Hawks, who have one playoff appearance in the past seven seasons, are in 13th place in the Western Conference and were 11 points out of a playoff spot entering last night.

Khabibulin was ranked 42nd in save percentage at .877.

"The numbers tell the story with him," Tallon said.

Just more than 10,500 bothered to show up at the United Center, which has a capacity of 20,500 for hockey, on Wednesday to watch the Hawks lose 6-1 to the Nashville Predators.

And the major Chicago newspapers apparently are not going to cover the Hawks' trip to Calgary and Edmonton Jan. 2-3. Good to see such interest in an Original Six city.

OLD MAN CHELLY

By the time the Olympics roll around, Chris Chelios will be 44. And, not unlike many, Chelios is a bit amazed that he remains relevant.

"In my wildest dreams I would have never, if you had asked me 10 years ago, thought I would still be playing at this level," Chelios said.

Before last night, Chelios had one goal, two assists and 64 penalty minutes in 35 games for the Detroit Red Wings. Chelios, who turns 44 on Jan. 25, will become the third-oldest player to compete in men's hockey in the Olympics and the oldest since 1928. It will be the fourth Olympics for Chelios, who played for the first time 22 years ago at Sarajevo.

"I feel so fortunate to have an opportunity again at my age," Chelios said. "It's just a great opportunity again to be able to represent your country. It's a great honour. I've had some great moments with USA Hockey -- Salt Lake was probably the best tournament I've ever competed in -- and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

ANOTHER HAPPY GEEZER

Gary Roberts has been feeling refreshed the past few weeks and it's not only because he became a father again.

The former Maple Leafs forward, after a slow start during which he was nagged by a groin injury, sounds as though he finally is feeling comfortable as a member of the Florida Panthers. Roberts, who has put up 16 points in 31 games, reflected on still playing after missing the entire 1996-97 season because of injury.

"I'm trying to enjoy it and play as long as my body is feeling good and it's still fun for me to train," Roberts, 39, said. "As long as I still enjoy doing that, I'll keep playing for a while."

Panthers coach Jacques Martin, who used to watch Roberts torment his old Senators club, figures Roberts has rounded a corner.

"It's a good example for our team the way he gets involved, goes to the net, the little things he does," Martin said. "He's that kind of player where he needs to play with an edge. That has always been his trademark."

Roberts, who has a teenaged daughter, and his fiance welcomed a son, Noah Jesse, into the world on Dec. 2.

CROSS CHECKS

Justin Pogge's signing bonus with the Leafs is $255,000 US, not $525,000 US, as was reported ... Atlanta Thrashers rookie goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has been plagued by groin problems, is expected to return either on Monday against Montreal or on Wednesday against Philadelphia. Lehtonen was hurt in the season opener. Thrashers coach Bob Hartley is not impressed that Lehtonen was named to Finland's Olympic team. "We're going to pick up whatever is left of him when it is over," Hartley said. "I just hope the Finnish team will supply the elastic bands (used to treat groin injuries) when he comes back." ... Nice Christmas break for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. While most teams have only two or three days off, the Ducks get a week, from Dec. 21-28.


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