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February 4, 2005 - Lockout angers Primeau

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Lockout angers Primeau

If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman cancels the 2004-05 season today, as several sources Thursday indicated he might, Keith Primeau knows what his first emotion will be.


The Flyers captain says the announcement will come on a day he's spent a long time preparing for. But it's still going to be difficult coming to grips with the fact that there won't be any hockey this year - and might not be any for quite some time.

A pro since 1990 and a hockey player since his early youth, this will mark the first season in which he has not participated in a competitive game.

"It will be anger first,'' said Primeau Thursday night. "I've been preparing for this moment for a long time; I've seen it coming. It doesn't really shock me. I really haven't spent a lot of time dwelling on the 'what ifs,' because I've known.

"But I was thinking about it today. Ultimately, I'm a player, and I want to play the game of hockey. To be not afforded that opportunity by someone (Bettman) who's never played and who's determined to break the union, it makes you mad.''

Primeau is only 33 and signed a four-year, $17-million contract during the offseason. But he's been talking to other veterans in their mid-30s, and there's been a common topic in their conversation: Should they start thinking beyond their hockey careers to what's next?

"I'm going to carry on with my hockey equipment company,'' said the Toronto native. "And I have other interests that I will pursue. When I say I don't know what I'm going to do, it's I don't know what I'm going to do when it comes to playing competitive hockey.''

There's a strong possibility that hockey won't be played until January 2006 or later, based on estimates by those in the industry who say all legal and political means of resolving this conflict will be exhausted by then.

Sooner or later, players of Primeau's generation will have to face a crossroads.

"It will be one full year, and who's to say, if we start in September or October, which I would put at highly unlikely, so that's minimum of a year and a half. That's a long time for me to be away from competitive hockey.''

Since last summer, Primeau has been warning that if the season is lost, the damage will be devastating to the game. Now that moment seems close at hand.

"If you cancel the entire season, the damage will be irreparable in certain markets. For the youth that may become interested in hockey (instead) they will become interested in other sports. You never get those kids at impressionable ages back. It's not something you might feel immediately but for years to come.''

With four children at home, Primeau has never entertained thoughts of playing in Europe, but he understands why more than half the NHL players have gone ahead and done so.

"Guys have already begun to make plans for the remainder of this season and I know some players who are talking about what they're going to do next year and commitments they're going to make to teams overseas,'' he said.

"Or just move on. There are guys who are just fed up with the situation, as much as the people are. They will just move on with their lives.''

Note: Apparently, Flyers management thinks it's just about over, too. General manager Bob Clarke was on his way to Florida on Thursday. He's driving down with friends, so it looks like he will be in no rush to get back.