Sunday, he was named the 14th captain in Flyers history.
After a meeting early Sunday morning between Flyers general manager Bob Clarke, coach Ken Hitchcock and captain Keith Primeau, it was decided that Hatcher would take over the captaincy from the injured Primeau on a "temporary basis," meaning if Primeau were to return this year, he would take his title back.
"(Clarke) and (Hitchcock) pulled me into Clarke’s office and said the team is like a lost ship at sea and is floundering and needs some direction," said Primeau, who has been the team’s captain since the start of the 2001-02 season. "With my uncertainty as it is, as good as the guys have been at finding ways to win hockey games, right now, we’re at a tough patch and we need that direction.
"Without knowing what my status is and my availability, we need direction now and, so I agreed. Temporarily they’re going to pass the captaincy to Derian and make Sami Kapanen and Simon Gagne permanent (alternates), and I’m OK with that. The performance of the team and the team (itself) is more important than my pride at this time. So, it’s the right decision."
After an NHL record-setting road trip in which they went 8-2-1, the Flyers have lost five of seven, with their only two wins coming against the hapless Pittsburgh Penguins.
Since an overtime win against the New York Rangers Jan. 5, the Flyers are winless in five games against teams with .500 or better records.
"I think it’s something that (Hitchcock) and maybe some of the players and the organization felt that (with) some of what was going on there needed to be a captain," said Hatcher, who was the captain of the Dallas Stars for nine seasons, six under Hitchock. "One of (Hitchcock’s) biggest concerns was to have that voice in the room. The voice about the way we’re supposed to be playing and the system we’re supposed to be playing. Someone to preach and to hold guys accountable toward the team."
The Flyers had discussed naming an interim captain in early December, with Gagne’s name coming to the forefront, but Gagne balked at the opportunity.
"It would be an honor to be a captain in the future for this organization, but when you look around, there are different people having more experience than I do and have been there before," said Gagne. "I had two persons in front of me. One was (Eric Desjardins) and the other was (Hatcher). Those were the two people in my mind that were the best people to have that job. That was one reason I was not comfortable with it."
Hitchcock reiterated that the decision wasn’t made because of the recent spate of losing, but that it very well could have gone a long way to help expedite the process.
"It wasn’t yesterday’s game. It’s been an ongoing situation where we feel that when you’re playing well, you don’t feel it’s necessary, but when things aren’t going as well you need to have firm direction inside the locker room and we don’t want players waiting for it, we want to have it right away," said Hitchcock, who won a Stanley Cup with the Stars with Hatcher as his captain. "Also, it’s to have someone for the players to go to not just for issues inside the locker room but also if there are issues with coaches."
Primeau, who has missed 41 consecutive games with a concussion and is nearing a team-imposed deadline of March 1 to return this season, said it was a difficult thing for him to accept, but that he understands the decision and was able to put aside any selfish feelings he might have for the betterment of the team.
"I take great pride in being the captain of the Flyers," he said. "It’s a role I truly cherish. So I don’t pass it off lightly, but I pass it off into some good hands and this allows me to continue to focus on getting back.
"I’m hoping this is as temporary as possible. I continue to work to get back in the lineup, but there is no time frame. We can’t continue as a team to worry about who’s out of the lineup, we need to focus on who’s in the lineup and doing this resolves part of that."