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February 27, 2006 - Flyers' Primeau expected to miss remainder of season

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Flyers' Primeau expected to miss remainder of season

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Keith Primeau is expected to call an end to his season on Tuesday, something the Flyers center delayed in recent weeks as he struggled to overcome lingering concussion symptoms.

General manager Bob Clarke did not want to comment directly Monday about Primeau's announcement, but the Flyers announced an 11 a.m. news conference on Tuesday "regarding his status for the remainder of the 2005-06 season" at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, Camden County.

Clarke and Flyers chairman Ed Snider previously said Primeau would not be cleared by team doctors to play again this season.

So the team will not have to count about $2.5 million of Primeau's salary against the cap, since he won't be coming off injured reserve. Clarke is expected to make use of whatever salary-cap space he has by the March 9 trading deadline.

Primeau has experienced some headache problems and spinning sensations since Oct. 25, when Montreal Canadiens rookie Alexander Perezhogin leveled him with an elbow to the jaw. He played two more games and still experienced symptoms. Primeau has not played since Oct. 28.

He has continued to undergo treatment, but on the ice, he has not progressed past light skating. He did not return a telephone message on Monday afternoon.

In an interview last week, Primeau said he was having trouble accepting the fact that he had to shut it down for the season, but he planned to continue therapy in an effort to return by training camp in September.

"Keith is a tremendous asset to both the team and the coaching staff," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "A coach's job is to make players do what they don't want to do and have fun doing it. That's very hard to do. You have to find that person in the locker room that's able to understand that message. That was Keith. He made my job easier."

Defenseman Derian Hatcher has taken over Primeau's captaincy while the center recovers.

Probably the best example of Primeau's leadership skills was displayed in the Flyers' 2004 run to the Eastern Conference finals. Accepting his role as a checking-line center under Hitchcock, Primeau - a three-time 30-goal scorer - posted just seven goals and 22 points in 80 regular-season games.

But in 18 playoff games, he collected nine goals and 16 points, and was considered a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP.

"That was a direct reflection of Keith accepting the mantle of being a leader," Hitchcock said. "He wanted to set an example every night. He wasn't only our hardest-working player, he became our best player.

"At the pace he's been (improving) lately, he's going to be back. He's got the color back in his face and jump back in his step."

Esche gets the call. Hitchcock said Robert Esche would be in the net on Wednesday night at the Meadowlands when the Flyers resume their season against the New Jersey Devils.

Esche, the No. 3 goalie for the U.S. Olympic team, said he plans to prove that he isn't necessarily the Flyers' No. 2 goalie just because Antero Niittymaki led Finland to a silver medal in the Olympics.

"I know what kind of a coach Ken Hitchcock is. I know we're both going to get games," Esche said. "Hitch is going to play a winner. It's probably going to be a revolving door until somebody jumps on it and runs with it."

Esche said he and Niittymaki would support each other. After all, he said with a laugh: "I can't go out and cut a guy's skate laces. I can't go out and slash his tires."

Loose pucks. Center Michal Handzus will not play in Wednesday's game or Thursday's home date with the New York Rangers. Handzus suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder, but he is trying to strengthen it and avoid surgery until the off-season. ... Recovering from concussions, defensemen Chris Therien and Kim Johnsson continue to sit out practices and have no timetables for their return.