SUN Hockey Pool

Deja (pressbox) view

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

At the tail end of a brief interview following yesterday's practice, Kristian Huselius was asked if he'd dealt with being a healthy scratch before.

"I did in Florida," said Huselius, before adding a telling kicker as he walked away to abruptly cut short his first comments on the benching: "with him, so..."

"Him" being coach Mike Keenan, the man who relegated the healthy winger to the press box Tuesday as part of their latest clash in philosophies.

Back in 2003, when the two last worked together, Huselius was, by several accounts, a regular target of the demanding coach despite reaching the 20-goal mark in each of his first two NHL seasons.

Stories of Keenan loudly berating young Huselius for soft or indifferent play still circulate around Miami's tiny hockey circles.

And while the approach both men have to the game seems to have changed considerably since then, many predicted Keenan's arrival last fall would eventually see the two clash again.

Well, 70-odd games in, it's clear the two don't see eye-to-eye. And given Huselius is only capable of making a difference at one end of the ice at the best of times, relations may not improve until the day the 29-year-old Swede signs elsewhere this summer.

"For sure it's not personal -- it never has been," insisted Keenan yesterday.

"If it was, he wouldn't have gotten the ice time he got this year. He understands -- I'm not delivering a brand new message."

So what changed over the last few weeks to prompt a 65-point winger playing on the top line to be reduced to 21 total minutes of ice time over three games before having the plug pulled on him completely?

"The needs of the team changed," explained Keenan, no stranger to player clashes over the course of his career.

"The intensity increased. The physicality increased. Teams are coming in with a different atmosphere."

Translation: Huselius is too soft to be playing playoff-style hockey. So, could he be in and out of the lineup indefinitely?

"Possibly," shrugged Iron Mike. "It depends on what the requirements of the game are, or the needs of the group. It depends how he reacts when he gets back into the lineup."

Does Huselius believe he can be effective when the going gets tough, as it clearly has the last few weeks?

"Why wouldn't I?" scoffed the seven-year veteran. "I've been playing in this league a long time."

Although Huselius was understandably unwilling to talk the day he got news of the benching, it must be said the gifted playmaker has handled the situation well. It's how he responds the next time he hits the ice that matters most.

"My attitude is just to work hard and be ready and stay in good shape," said the former 34-goal scorer, who was asked if he's had regular dialogue with the coaching staff about their concerns.

"That's a tough question to answer. It's always tough -- you want to be out there helping the team and contributing."

Luckily, the issue is not a distraction for a club far too focused to worry about any number of the veterans who sit out every night.

"A couple years ago in the playoffs, he was our best player against Anaheim, a physical, big team. He was dominant in a physical series," said Jarome Iginla.

"It has to be tough on him, especially this time of year. He's a big part of this team and our offence. This time of year, it's not just about physical play and trying to run over guys -- we all win battles in different ways. We believe he'll be back and be a big part of our team, for sure."

Exactly when that will be, Keenan didn't know.

So the battle behind closed doors wages on.


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