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June 15, 2004 - Primeau stays put
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Primeau stays put


Veteran follows heart, signs $17M, 4-year extension



morane@phillynews.com

Before the Flyers' season ended in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals, Keith Primeau had made up his mind about where he wanted to spend the rest of his career.

Primeau knew that, with the season he had just completed, his appearance in the All-Star Game and the way he took over the Flyers during the playoffs, he would have a good chance of drawing competitive offers when he became a free agent on July 1.

But this is home to Primeau.

"This has always felt like home to me," Primeau said in early April.

Yesterday, Primeau made sure that it would stay that way.

Without testing the market, Primeau took a hefty salary reduction and signed a deal that should keep him in Philadelphia for the rest of his career.

The 32-year-old center accepted a 4-year contract worth $17 million that will pay him $4.5 million in the first 2 years and $4 million in the final 2.

Over the last two seasons, Primeau had been paid $5 million a year.

But the pay cut didn't matter to Primeau.

"The Flyers organization has taken care of me in a financial way, and I can only repay them with performance," Primeau said. "It's really exciting. As I said, and I continue to say, there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

"That may have hurt my negotiations, to an extent, because everybody was aware of where I wanted to play. But from a comfort level, there is nowhere else that Keith Primeau was supposed to play, and, because of that, I'm happy."

Considering the NHL's situation and the position that the owners are taking on pending negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, reaching an agreement was easy, said Don Reynolds, Primeau's agent.

"He wanted to retire in Philadelphia, and now we're pretty sure he'll do that," Reynolds said.

"He definitely took a reduction in pay. But this answers both the Flyers' needs and Keith's needs. He could have gone on the free-agent market, but he's committed to the Flyers, committed to Ken Hitchcock and committed to Philadelphia.''

The Flyers felt the same.

"For our organization, [Primeau] is the most important player on our club," general manager Bob Clarke said. "He's our leader. And before we could go forward with the other signings, we thought we had to get [Primeau] signed, and we did, and we're extremely happy about it.

"This will be our biggest signing of the summer."

Still unsigned are unrestricted free agents Mark Recchi, Alexei Zhamnov, Vladimir Malakhov and Sean Burke. Also unsigned are restricted free agents Simon Gagne, Kim Johnsson, Michal Handzus and Todd Fedoruk.

Clarke said both goalies, Burke and Robert Esche, exercised an option in their contracts that will keep them signed with the Flyers.

Burke, however, is not expected to return for next season. He most likely will be traded to make room for rookie Antero Niittymaki. Esche, who made $500,000 last season, likely will negotiate a new deal.

Now that Primeau is signed, Clarke said he will turn his attention to his other unrestricted free agents.

"I think Zhamnov is where we're at now," Clarke said. "We'll try and get him signed before the end of the month if we can; otherwise, he's free.

"We've spoken to Malakhov's agent. We haven't made any progress yet, but we still have till the end of the month.

"The [restricted free agents] - Johnsson and Gagne and Handzus and those players - will get signed. It just won't probably be before the end of July, early August."

As for not mentioning Recchi, the Flyers' leading scorer and team MVP during the regular season, Clarke said: "With Mark we won't do anything at least until we see what the new [labor agreement] brings us. Because of the number of players we have and not knowing what the restrictions on salaries are going to be, we're just going to have to wait on some of the players."

The collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15.

Clarke said the labor talks and possibility of a salary cap factored into the negotiations with Primeau, as they will with the remaining players.

"It's something both sides have to consider, and both sides have no information on what's going to happen, and every indication has been that the gross salaries are going down," Clarke said.