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October 1, 2004 - Present, past Flyers work out together

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My Keith Primeau Page

Present, past Flyers work out together
By WAYNE FISH
phillyBurbs.com

MEDFORD, N.J. - There were just six skaters - three Flyers, three ex-Flyers - circling around the suburban rink and the whole scene, given the stature of today's millionaire players, looked more than slightly incongruous.

Thursday, this small group got together for the first voluntary informal workout since the announcement of the NHL lockout on Sept. 15.

If not for their high skill level and pro hockey builds, they could have been mistaken for a 30-something pickup game at lunch hour.

Even with labor negotiations colder than the frigid air in this bandbox, several of the Flyers decided to lace on the skates anyway. It was as much a social event as a workout - a chance to catch up with teammates/friends face-to-face.

The roster included current Flyers Keith Primeau, John LeClair and Sami Kapanen along with former Flyers Eric Weinrich, Chris Therien and Chris McAllister.

Say what you will about seven-figure contracts, these guys are still hockey players at heart, so the pull of the ice was too great to stay away, even if there isn't NHL hockey until 2005 or beyond.

The picture looked quite similar to the one of the last lockout (1994), when about a dozen Flyers got together in Sewell, N.J. for weekly workouts.

The difference between then and now is that in '94 there was always talk of a deal getting done to save the season. And it did happen in January, a settlement providing the chance for a 48-game schedule.

Now, no such positive banter exists. The players sound resigned to a lost season, even if the reality of a year of lost wages hasn't quite sunk in yet.

"I had a really good sense back in '94 that by January something would get done,'' Primeau said after an hour that consisted mainly of skating, passing and shooting at open nets. "Everyday there was something optimistic. They at least tried to resolve it with discussions.

"This time around, I have a really bad feeling.''

The group will expand in number next week (Todd Fedoruk and Marcus Ragnarsson are due back in town), with a second session added and two local goalies brought in to facilitate scrimmages.

Primeau hadn't planned to skate until there was a sign of progress in the talks. A few phone calls changed that.

"The guys who are here felt it was important to get on the ice a couple times a week, just to get to see each other and get our skates on," he said. "We just want to keep ourselves on skates.''

Weinrich, now with the St. Louis Blues, formerly was the Flyers' union representative before last year's trade.

The veteran defenseman doesn't expect anything to happen soon. Speaking for the players, he says there won't be any surprises.

There are rumors that the owners eventually will try to impose a system and then invite players to "break ranks'' and cross the line, essentially decertifying the union.

"I would hope that the guys are united enough not to do that,'' Weinrich said. "We've planned for this situation to happen. We hoped it wouldn't, but it did. For us to be a strong union, we just can't allow that to happen.

"We want the owners to respect our union and not expect it to give in ... find a resolution like baseball did.''

LeClair, entering the fourth of a five-year contract that pays him $9 million per season, faces an uncertain future. The Flyers, who have the largest "signed'' payroll for 2004-'05 at $66 million, have mentioned buyouts as a way of paring salary.

"I know the possibility that when this ends I could get bought out,'' LeClair said. "I'll be on my own, trying to find a team kind of thing. But I think we have to see what the new rules are and go from there.''

LeClair shares Primeau's pessimism about a timely settlement.

"In '94, we always heard we might be playing in two more weeks," LeClair said. "There's no hope for that right now.''

So, the hockey-less autumn has begun and a small group of Flyers will continue to pass the time skating in circles.