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Huscroft hopes Crisp will play the averages

He is the other guy, the other defenseman who came to Tampa Bay during a day of deadline deals in which the Lightning also acquired Edmonton Oilers millionaire Jeff Norton.

Yet if Jamie Huscroft does half of what he says he usually does, Lightning coach Terry Crisp ought to be just as pleased with the pauper as the prince.

And don't take that to mean Huscroft is boastful, either. Actually, quite the contrary. The new addition to Tampa Bay's defensive corps is an overly modest man.

Either that, or a realist.

"I'm just an average defenseman," Huscroft said Wednesday, a day after the Lightning acquired him from Calgary for minor-league goalie Tyler Moss, and two days before tonight's game against his not-so-old Flames teammates.

Huscroft's relatively meager salary of $302,500, about $455,000 below the Lightning average, bears out this mustached 30-year-old's claim of mediocrity. In fact, it is believed only two players on the Lightning roster _ rookie center Jeff Toms and veteran defenseman Jay Wells _ have lower base salaries than Huscroft.

But it doesn't seem like knowing that would embarrass Huscroft.

"I get the puck off the boards hard, and try not to do anything crazy with it," he said. "I don't want to carry the puck if I don't have to, and would much rather get it to a winger or my defensive partner. I clear things out in front of the net, and try not to take a penalty doing it. It isn't fancy, but it's me."

Simple as it sounds, the philosophy Huscroft adheres to is the one Crisp preaches.

"It doesn't come from one person," Huscroft said before invoking what is perhaps Crisp's favorite word. "It comes from 20 guys believing in a system.

"

Ah, the system.

You better believe Crisp has one, and part of it involves defensemen doing the things Huscroft described as a regular part of his game.

Perhaps that is why Crisp had the stay-at-home Huscroft paired for even-strength play with top offensive defenseman Roman Hamrlik in his Lightning debut, a 3-1 loss to Edmonton on Wednesday.

That, actually, and a recommendation from Rick Tabaracci, the ex-Flame who in Daren Puppa's absence has worked as the Lightning's top goalie most of this season.

"I talked to Tabby," Crisp said, "and he said (Huscroft) brings some toughness and real grit."

He showed flashes of that Wednesday, actually standing up forwards at the blue line (something seen all too infrequently from Lightning defensemen this season) and throwing some hard checks with his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame.

He didn't drop his gloves, but is said to be willing to do that whenever necessary.

Numbers attest: The Creston, British Columbia, product (by way of the Western Hockey League) was New Jersey's ninth draft choice in 1985 and has played all or parts of seven NHL seasons.

He played parts of three seasons with the Devils, never scoring more than five points but compiling 149 penalty minutes in 42 games in 1989-90. Signed as a free agent by Boston in 1992, Huscroft spent two full seasons in the minors, one in the Devils system and one with the Bruins, before returning to the NHL in '93-94. In his first partial season with Boston, he had one assist and 144 penalty minutes in 36 games. He played 34 games with Boston in the lockout-shortened season, then signed as a free agent with Calgary.

Last season, his first with the Flames, Huscroft posted career highs in games played (70), goals (3), assists (9) and penalty minutes (162).

But he had been used sparingly this season, appearing in 39 of 72 games (four assists, 117 minutes) and prompting Tabaracci to lobby Lightning GM Phil Esposito for a trade that would bring his friend from Calgary to Tampa Bay.

"He's a hard-nosed player who comes to play every night," Tabaracci said. Joked Huscroft: "I'm going to have to (pay Tabaracci) agent's fees."

If Huscroft does what he says, maybe he can afford to give the goalie a cut from his raise. Either that, or borrow from Norton.

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