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January 23, 2006 - Primeau wants to salvage his season

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Ed Moran | Primeau wants to salvage his season

EARLY FRIDAY morning, Flyers general manager Bob Clarke came up to Keith Primeau and told him there was a trade in the works.

Some speculation after Clarke sent Dennis Seidenberg to Phoenix for center Petr Nedved was that the trade was all the proof anyone needed that the decision on Primeau's season had been made - that it was over.

None of that speculation was backed up by anyone on the record.

The chances that Primeau will recover from the persistent postconcussion symptoms that have sidelined him for the past 3 months seem remote, but the decision on whether he can play this season has not been made yet.

There is a deadline. Primeau has until the end of the Olympics (Feb. 26), to get better before the Flyers make a move either way.

And that was what Clarke said to Primeau on Friday morning.

"He first asked me how I was feeling and then he told me that we have the opportunity to pick up a player [Nedved] and that it wasn't going to have any effect on me coming back," Primeau said. "He said if I was coming back, then I would come back."

There is little doubt in Primeau's mind that Clarke is being sincere. And I have none, either. I've talked to Clarke about Primeau several times and I've never walked away from the conversation believing anything except that Clarke wants Primeau to have every chance to come back and play.

Clarke watched what Primeau did for the Flyers during the last playoff run, he saw how Primeau handled the captaincy, and the fallout that fell on Primeau after Bill Barber was fired.

There is no shortage of respect when Clarke talks about Primeau. "He got hurt playing for us and we owe him the chance to try and come back," is what Clarke says.

But the reality is, the road is nearing an end. The Flyers have said so. If Primeau, 34, is not able to come back 5 weeks from now, his salary will be taken off of the payroll and another trade will be made.

The Flyers can't go into the playoffs without someone with the size and ability that Primeau brings to both scoring and playing defense. AHL call-ups won't be the answer in the playoffs.

Primeau knows this.

"In the back of their minds they are starting to see a window closing," he said. "I know from a team standpoint that there was going to have to be a deadline and so I'm not surprised by the speculation.

"But the team has been extremely patient and understanding. They've afforded me all of the medical needs that I've asked for and put them at my disposal. I have no complaint at them basically explaining that there will be a point in time when they will have to make a move."

And still, he hopes.

Every day Primeau comes to the rink, gets dressed in full equipment, including a new smoked-black visor to cut down the glare, and skates long, winding loops around the rink.

Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin sometimes skates behind him and makes him do stick and puck drills where Primeau has to turn his head from side to side. The goal is to get him to the point where he can do this without the world spinning around him.

He's getting to the point where the spinning only lasts a few minutes, but the key is, there has not been a day where he has not had symptoms. And that is not encouraging.

Not for Primeau. Not for the Flyers.

Yesterday, Primeau had what McCrossin calls "a good day" - that is a day when the spinning came and went very quickly.

"When I focus, it feels good," Primeau said. "I have no headaches, and I can go on the ice and go on the bike and not spin. I feel my focus getting stronger. I feel the pressure getting less. My spinning symptoms don't sustain themselves, don't last as long and the recovery is much quicker. But at the same time, I still know it's there."

To say this has been frustrating for Primeau is a colossal understatement. It has been that and more.

"It's tough because I can't even put a percentage on [the possibility] of coming back," Primeau said. "I just don't know. To me it's about getting better, and playing again is really taking a backseat to getting healthy.

"When I'm healthy, I'll be ready to play. In the past, I've put playing ahead of that and that may be part of the blame for where I am right now. I can't afford to go back and play five or 10 games and then be right back to where I am.

"But I won't rule this out yet. I won't rule anything out. I've felt improvement in the last week and for the first time in a long time I feel encouraged. I say that knowing that there have been times in the last 2 months where I felt good and was encouraged only to have a setback."

So he keeps coming to the rink and trying for a day when there is no spinning and the possibility of his coming back becomes more than just a faint hope.

He hopes for a day when he can stop reading about the speculation that is career is coming to an end, even if he understands why it's being written.

"That's the easy side of the ledger to take, I guess," he said. "And if it's wrong, nobody cares. Everybody speculates, that's what's frustrating. But I've been given a lot of respect and privacy and [the media] has really shown me a lot of patience and I really appreciate that.

"What bothers me is when people are trying to trade me or are telling me I'm done when there is no truth to those situations at all. That's just poor journalism. But I have no control over that.

"And as much as I feel pressure, I don't feel pressure. I gave up fighting it a long time ago. Right now, I'm trying to get healthy. My body feels great, but my head just won't let me go out and play. So I can do two things: fight through it or get discouraged. I'm not there yet."