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August 2, 2005 - Flyers ink Hatcher, welcome back Therien

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Flyers ink Hatcher, welcome back Therien
 
VOORHEES, N.J. - It was a long night for the Flyers brass Monday, but once the sun came up Tuesday, the fruits of their labors were quite evident.
The Flyers signed four unrestricted free agents - a couple of familiar names to Philadelphia hockey fans - and traded another player as the 2005-06 roster molded into shape.

The Flyers bolstered their defense by bulking up in size, signing Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje to multi-year deals and bringing back Chris Therien for one season. All three defensemen stand at 6-5.

The biggest fish reeled in was Hatcher, 33, who signed a four-year, $14 million contract to come to Philadelphia after spending parts of 13 NHL seasons with the Minnesota North Stars, Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings.

"Derian's always been the best player in the biggest games," said Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock. "He doesn't say anything and he doesn't need to. His presence, his mannerisms and his body language tell you everything. The bigger the stage, the better he plays.

"He's a fierce competitor who's always at his best when things are emotional."

Rathje, 31, inked a five-year, $17.5 million deal, leaving the San Jose Sharks, where he had played each of his 11 NHL seasons.
Therien, 33, returned to the Flyers on a one-year, $500,000 contract after being traded to Dallas prior to the 2003-04 trade deadline.
The Flyers also signed Jon Sim to a one-year contract at the league minimum salary of $450,000.

Sim, 27, starred for the Phantoms last season, helping them to a Calder Cup championship after being loaned by the Utah Grizzlies in exchange for Peter White.

As a result of the four signings, the Flyers needed to clear a little bit of room below the salary cap and in turn traded defenseman Danny Markov to the Nashville Predators for a third-round pick in the 2006 draft.

Markov allegedly mouthed off to the NHL Players' Association membership during the ratification vote of the new collective bargaining agreement and threatened to return to Russia and never return to the NHL at the conclusion of his current contract.

Markov will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

"It was our feeling that we lost (Vladimir) Malakhov, (Mattias) Timander and (Marcus) Ragnarsson - three big men on defense - and we felt we needed more size back there," said Flyers GM Bob Clarke. "We believe we improved our skill and our defense as well as our offense from the defense from these three guys.

"Sim will be a utility guy for us. He can score, he's an agitator. He was really, really good for the Phantoms last year and he can play anywhere up front for us other than center."

After some quick math, the Flyers new team salary now stands at slightly more than $36 million.

Bringing in players the quality of Hatcher and Rathje should really excite Flyers fans, but no one was as excited Tuesday as Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick.

"I think it makes us, without a doubt, the odds-on favorite (to win the Stanley Cup)," Roenick said. "We've maintained our reputation as the biggest team in the league. We've improved our team tenfold. I'm juiced about it."

Roenick has had a storied past with Hatcher from their days battling in the Western Conference.

In a 1994 game between Dallas and the Chicago Blackhawks, Hatcher went knee-to-knee with Roenick and forced Roenick to miss time with a severe hyperextension.

Then, in the 1996 playoffs between Dallas and Phoenix, Hatcher retaliated to a cheap shot Roenick put on Stars stalwart Mike Modano by breaking Roenick's jaw with a crushing hit.

Much was made of the bad blood between the two players, but both insisted that those feelings are a thing of the past.

"He's caused me more pain and suffering in the game than anybody ever has," said Roenick. "I'm not going to tell you he's my favorite person in the world because he's not. But I love the fact that he's on my hockey team.

"How can you dislike being with a guy that makes your team a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. He's got the grit and talent and determination that doesn't come around very often. I'm juiced about it."

Hatcher also took the high road about Roenick.

"I give J.R. so much credit," he said. "Every time I see him, I think he goes out of his way to say, 'Hi' because he knows I feel awkward.
"He's one of those guys who when he's not on your team you don't like him, but if he is on your team you love him."

Hatcher said a lot of factors went into his decision to come to Philadelphia. Clarke drafted him when he was the G.M. of the Minnesota North Stars in 1990. Hitchcock coached him for six years in Dallas, and they won a Stanley Cup together in 1999. And, the length of the contract was significant.

"I have a wife and four kids and I didn't want to get into a position where I was moving my family every two years," said Hatcher. "And from what I understand, Philly's a great place to live."

The one concern about Hatcher is his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that he suffered in October of 2003. The injury limited him to just 39 games in both the NHL and the USHL since, but Hatcher said his knee feels better now then it has in at least five years.

Rathje is a player who has flown under the radar in the NHL but has consistently been one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the league.

"He's the type of player that has a lot of subtleties to his game that you don't appreciate until you get to watch him a lot," said Flyers professional scout Dean Lombardi, who drafted Rathje when he was the G.M. of the Sharks. "He always plays against the other team's top players. "He's not a highlight film. His job is to stop highlight films from happening."

Rathje was also sold on the lengthy contract, which was what sold him on moving his family from their Northern California home they have known for much of the last decade.

"I wasn't really planning on leaving San Jose," said Rathje. "But the Flyers showed me that they really wanted me there and I was more than happy to come."

Therien was just happy to come back home after 17 months in flux.
"I wanted to let them know that I thought I was a good fit for them," Therien said of the Flyers. "I live in the area. And it's really where I wanted to be."

Clarke said Roenick and Flyers captain Keith Primeau both called him and lobbied for Therien to be brought back to the team.

"It means a lot to me," said Therien. "They're great guys and great people. When you hear guys do that for you it really means a lot."
Sim, who has had a reputation as a guy who didn't stay in the greatest shape to play hockey at the NHL level, earned himself a chance with a commitment to a better work ethic displayed when he led the Phantoms in goals (37) and points (65).

"Sim's the kind of guy who can't just be in good shape if he's going to succeed, but he has to be in great shape," Hitchcock said. "I think over the last couple of years he's realized that."

Sim agreed with his former and now current coach.

"Hey, I'm only 5-foot-10," Sim said. "I can't push guys around unless I'm in top shape. I know that. That's why for the past three weeks I've been working out as hard as I can so that when camp opens up I can prove that I belong and earn a spot in the lineup every night.

"It's only August, but I really wish it were Oct. 5, that's how excited I am."

Hitchcock likes what the new additions do to the framework of the Flyers.

"We got young players coming in who are going to play a lot," Hitchcock said. "We need to give them confidence to play on a nightly basis. By adding size and ability on the back end we feel it's going to give confidence to guys like Joni (Pitkanen) and Dennis (Seidenberg) on the back end and guys like (Jeff) Carter, (Patrick) Sharp and (Mike) Richards.

"Hatcher's coming here to help Primeau. We've got Keith on the front end and now Eric (Desjardins) and Derian on the back end and that's significant. Two quiet people who say the right thing at the right time, and that's going to help Primeau."