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September 12, 2004 - Primeau sees lockout as all but inevitable

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My Keith Primeau Page

The workouts are almost as forced as the smiles these days for Keith Primeau.

Coming off the most prolific postseason of his 14-year NHL career, the Flyers' captain continues to push himself to prepare for a season that might not occur.

The NHL's collective-bargaining agreement expires Wednesday, which happens to be the day the Flyers are supposed to report to training camp. Talks between the league and the players' association broke off Thursday. There was no progress and even less hope. A lockout seems inevitable, with both sides seeming to be unwavering.

The Cliffs Notes version of the dispute is simple: The owners claim they have been drowning for years in red ink and are seeking to impose a salary cap. The players feel that, although the league receives nothing like the television money that goes to Major League Baseball, the NFL or the NBA, it can still survive without a cap.

Observers have predicted that a lockout could last a few weeks, a few months or even until the end of what would be the 2005-2006 season. Stopping Primeau in last season's playoffs would have been easier than finding somebody who doesn't have a grim view of the situation.

"The season can be salvaged, but it's very unlikely there will be an 82-game season," Primeau said Friday. "For me, being through it before and understanding the issues, I would be pleased with any season."

Primeau has been part of two work stoppages, both as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. In April of 1992, five days before the end of the regular season, the players went on strike for 10 days. Then, on Oct. 1, 1994, the owners imposed a lockout that lasted 103 days. The league then had a truncated regular season, with each team playing 48 games.

What will happen now? Nobody knows for sure, although there will be acrimony on both sides, each realizing that the public will not sympathize with millionaire hockey players or with owners whose pockets are even deeper. There will be no movement until one side decides to fold its hand on the salary-cap issue.

"From the players' perspective, the salary cap is the only stumbling point," Primeau said. "As soon as it comes off the table, it's a matter of days before a settlement can be reached."

Despite the situation, Primeau dutifully works out each day at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, Camden County. He is skating and doing weight training for a season that could go by the boards.

"It's not a whole lot of fun, being on the ice every day to skate, only to realize we may not be playing," Primeau said. "I have continued to push my workouts because it is my responsibility to stay in shape."

What makes all this especially disappointing for Primeau is that he is coming off a postseason in which he was virtually unstoppable, sort of a Michael Jordan on skates.

In 18 playoff games, Primeau led the Flyers in scoring with nine goals and seven assists after having scored only seven goals in 54 regular-season games. The Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, then lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the eventual Stanley Cup champions, in a scintillating seven-game series.

For a long time in that series, Primeau carried the Flyers on his back. His performance during their 5-4 overtime victory in Game 6 was a classic example of his leadership. With less than two minutes left in regulation, he scored the equalizer. He then assisted, along with Jeremy Roenick, on Simon Gagne's game-winner. He ended up with two goals and two assists.

"The playoffs were a lot of fun and so exciting, and that is the biggest frustration," he said. "We really began to build some momentum as an organization, and now to have this is really difficult."

But Primeau will continue to work out, even though he knows that he might not be able to perform his craft again any time soon.