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January 30, 2006 - For now, Flyers will be calling him Captain Hatcher

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For now, Flyers will be calling him Captain Hatcher

By ED MORAN
morane@phillynews.com

It's a move that should have been made weeks ago.

But a long road trip, when the Flyers were finding ways to win in desperate situations, put it off.

Leaderless since Oct. 30, when captain Keith Primeau went out with a possible season-ending concussion, the Flyers have been patching themselves together with replacement players and winning games on gumption without any one person in the locker room pulling them together.

There was no way to delay it any longer.

After back-to-back embarrassing losses, the latest a 6-0 beating by Tampa Bay on national television at the Wachovia Center on Saturday afternoon, and seven losses in the last 10 games, the Flyers yesterday named Derian Hatcher the team's interim captain.

"The coaches called a meeting yesterday morning and they said that they felt that if they were going to get things going in the right direction, they would need a captain," Flyers general manager Bob Clarke said.

And so Hatcher, who was coach Ken Hitchcock's captain in Dallas when he led the Stars to a Stanley Cup championship in 1998-99, was given the title.

He will remain captain until the Flyers make a decision on Primeau's futureat the end of the Olympic break. Hatcher will wear the "C" for the first time tonight against the Rangers in New York.

That Hatcher was named captain is not a surprise. Simon Gagne, who has been an alternate captain all season, was asked to take the role but twice refused it, saying he could not assume the "C" while Primeau was still trying to recover from persistent concussion symptoms.

And as time passed, Hatcher - who was also an assistant captain - slowly became the player who represented the team when issues came up with Hitchcock.

After the loss to Tampa Bay, Hatcher's voice was loud and clear. He was embarrassed, and he said so.

It was the voice of a captain.

"I think it's something that [Hitchcock] and some of the players felt that, with some of what's been going on, that there needed to be a captain - a voice in the room that represents the team," said Hatcher, a 13-year veteran in his first season with the Flyers.

"And I think working with [Hitchcock] before, I can bring some of that [experience]. There weren't always good times in Dallas. Worse comes to worst, maybe I can help the guys with [Hitchcock] a little more.

"It's about the system we're supposed to be playing and a voice in the room; someone to preach that and hold [players] accountable."

Accountability was not an issue when the Flyers were winning. But it has become a huge issue since the 6-3 loss in Detroit on Jan. 12, during the road trip.

Defensive-zone mistakes, a lack of goal-scoring and goaltending that has gone south - plus a continual string of injuries - have made it an issue.

The problem became crystal clear when Peter Forsberg went out with another groin pull. It was as if the Flyers were a tire that had been slashed in the parking lot.

The escaping air has been deafening. And baffling to the coaches.

So with a desperate situation now in hand, Primeau was called in and asked if he would concede his role until the decision on his health is made.

Primeau said Clarke and Hitchcock "pulled me into [Clarke's] office and said that the team is kind of a lost ship at sea right now and kind of floundering, and we need some direction."

"As good as the guys have been to find ways to win hockey games, right now we're at a tough patch and we need that direction," Primeau said. "Without knowing what my status is and my availability, we need direction now. I agreed, and temporarily they are going to pass the captaincy to Derian Hatcher and make Sami Kapanen and Simon Gagne assistants, and I'm OK with that."

For Hitchcock, it is a move that he sees more as an opportunity than one made in desperation, even though he recognizes the desperation of his team's situation.

"I don't think the sense of urgency was there before this and we didn't need a captain," Hitchcock said. "You don't put a sense of urgency on things until there is urgency. And there is now.

"I think there is more of an opportunity to start building the team again. Every team in the league has gone through what we're going through right now. This is our turn.

"The players have to get on with not waiting for injured players to come back in to solve things for them. We have to get on with solving this now.

"Having a captain is more about having a voice in the room. It's about sitting in the locker room between periods and the players knowing who to go to and who has the voice."