VOORHEES, N.J. - "We're kind of like a lost ship at sea now."
Those were the words of Keith Primeau, describing the Flyers' aimless play of late and also explaining why
the team needed to name Derian Hatcher as acting captain Sunday in Primeau's absence.
Primeau, captain of the team since the 2000-01 season, has been sidelined since Oct. 30 by a serious concussion.
There's no telling if or when he will return.
The Flyers didn't appear to need a replacement, especially during that spectacular 8-2-1 road trip that bridged
December and January.
But of late, things have turned south in a hurry. The Flyers have dropped six of eight and find themselves
just three points up on the Rangers as they head to New York tonight.
After Saturday's 6-0 national disgrace at the hands of Tampa Bay, the Flyers decided they needed to get the
leadership situation squared away.
And so Hatcher, Primeau, general manager Bob Clarke and head coach Ken Hitchcock sat down Sunday morning and
decided to make him the franchise's 13th different captain in its 39-year history.
Hatcher, 33, was captain of the 1999 Dallas Stars team which won the Stanley Cup under Hitchcock. The two
have a solid working relationship, and that should serve both well in trying to get things rectified.
Simon Gagne and Sami Kapanen were named permanent assistants. There seems to be an understanding that if Primeau
returns this season, the "C" will go back to him. But for the time being, Hatcher will be the one who speaks the loudest in
the locker room.
"I think it's something that Hitch 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," Hatcher said.
"And I think with working with Hitch before, I can bring some of that [experience]. There weren't always good
times in Dallas. Worst comes to worst, maybe I can help the guys with Hitch a little more."
There seemed to be a sense that the Flyers were straying from Hitchcock's system, and Hatcher should be able
to get that situation corrected. He commands respect by his playing career and perhaps also by the fact that he stands 6-5
and weighs 235 pounds.
"It's about the system we're supposed to be playing and a voice in the room," Hatcher said. "Someone to preach
that and hold [players] accountable."
Primeau said he agreed to the move.
"We need some direction," he said. "With my uncertainty, as good as the guys have been to find ways to win
hockey games, right now we're in a tough patch, and we need that direction.
"Without knowing what my status is and without knowing my availability, we need direction now. I agreed. So
temporarily they're going to pass it to Derian. I'm OK with that. The performance of the team is more important than my pride
at this time. It's the right decision."
Gagne, 25, had been asked to take this role shortly after Primeau went out, but he declined. He said Sunday
that either Hatcher or Eric Desjardins would be better candidates because they have much more experience in the NHL.
Hitchcock used Primeau often to sell his system to the players. Without that tool, it's been difficult to
maintain that focus on a daily basis.
"It's been an ongoing situation," Hitchcock said. "When things are going really well, you're thinking that
it's not necessary [to have a captain]. But when things aren't going as well, you need to have firm direction in the locker
room. We don't want to have people waiting for it. We would like it to happen right away and have the players know they have
someone to go to.''
"If you have a captain with experience, why not take advantage of it?"
It was also important to Hitchcock that Primeau understand the move.
"We talked with Keith today, and he agreed it's in the best interest of the team that we have a captaincy,"
he said. "So on an ongoing basis, Derian will be the acting captain until the final decision is made on Keith."