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Holding rule not eagerly grasped

Some like the new NHL rules. Some do not. It depends who is asked.

"I think once everyone adapts to the changes you will see a better game, with the skilled players better able to show off what they do best," NHL president Gil Stein said last week. "Sure, there are a lot of (penalties) now, but they will go down when the players get used to them."

The most annoying call to both Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Phil Esposito and coach Terry Crisp has been the rule that makes holding an opponent's stick a two-minute minor.

"It's been a part of the game forever," Crisp said.

"Boy would I have had a field day," Esposito said. "Who knows how many I could have scored."

Esposito used to park himself in front of the goal. "Sometimes the only way they could stop me is by grabbing my stick," he said.

Still, Esposito isn't crazy about the rule.

Edmonton coach Ted Green isn't crazy about most of the new rules either.

Green, who racked up 1,029 penalty minutes in his 11-year NHL career, said he doesn't want the sport to lose its rough quality and become more like the less-physical international style.

"I like Canadian hockey, but it seems like it's a dinosaur now," he said. "I don't know what I'm seeing anymore. I want to see the Canadian hockey I was brought up with.

"You've got to get your nose bloodied; you've got to get a little bruised."

Throwing in the gloves?: Detroit tough guy Bob Probert said he still enjoys fisticuffs but doesn't want to fight as much this season.

When training-camp teammate Jim Cummins pushed Probert, 27, out of the way to fight Pittsburgh's Jay Caufield, Probert wasn't offended.

Probert thought it was great. He likes people backing him up for a change.

Coffey break: New Los Angeles Kings coach Barry Melrose is counting on veteran Paul Coffey to keep the Kings together in the absence of Wayne Gretzky, who is out indefinitely because of a back injury.

After all, it was Coffey who was part of the glue that kept the Pittsburgh Penguins from falling apart when was sidelined.

Picking up the slack at center for the Kings is Jari Kurri, who spent his first 11 seasons in the NHL playing right wing.

Whalers bailout: The fans in Hartford may not be supporting the Whalers at the gate, but the state of Connecticut is helping with its 2 cents _ make that $29-million.

On Thursday, Gov. Lowell Weicker announced that the state will give the Whalers a $4-million loan, and the team will get a $10-million guarantee on up to $25-million in loans from two banks for seven years.

The package stipulates that the Whalers must stay in Hartford during the seven-year period of the loan and for five years after the sale of the team unless a prepayment penalty of $1.5-million is made.

"We've got to buy some time and get this team on solid footing," Whalers owner Richard Gordon said.

Quotable: New York Rangers general manager Neil Smith on the team's fans calling last season disappointing because the team failed to win the Stanley Cup after posting a league-best 105 points.

"It bothered me to hear, "Once again, a disappointing season,' " Smith said.

"Disappointing season with 105 points? People say, "I've suffered with your team for years.' How much did you suffer last year? If you really want to suffer, I could tell you some places to go watch games."