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March 1, 2006 - Primeau says goodbye for now

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Primeau says goodbye for now

"I'll continue to strive to return in the fall," the Flyers center said, speaking with emotion.

By Ray Parrillo
Inquirer Staff Writer

As an athlete trained to plow through adversity, Keith Primeau refused to accept what just about everyone else involved with the Flyers knew for weeks - that his season had been ended by his latest concussion.

The 34-year-old center and consummate team captain had been told by a wave of physicians that they would not clear him to return because the next blow to his head could affect him for the rest of his life.

Even when Derian Hatcher was named to replace him as captain on Jan. 29, a clear signal that he was through for the season, Primeau kept hoping against hope. And three weeks ago, when his vision finally cleared, he figured a return was possible.

But the headaches and spinning sensations persist, so Primeau at long last accepted the inevitable and made it official yesterday.

"I make this decision with difficulty," an emotional Primeau said. "I'd hoped not to get to this point, and although I have made progress in my recovery, I'm not symptom-free, and therefore will not be able to finish the season.

"I make this decision in the hopes of prolonging my career, and I'll continue to strive to return in the fall."

Primeau also ended speculation that he might return for the playoffs, saying it made no sense because by then he would have not played on a consistent basis for two years.

"And that would make me susceptible in itself," he said. "I would say no."

But Primeau said physicians had told him he should be able to resume his career next season.

"They're pleased with the progress I've been making, albeit slow," and say that "in due time, I'll recover and I'll have the opportunity to play again," he said.

Since Primeau will not be coming off the injured reserve list, the Flyers will have room under the salary cap to sign another player. But some of that cap space of about $2.5 million was taken up by the signing of Petr Nedved, and a major move by general manager Bob Clarke before the March 9 trade deadline seems unlikely.

Most teams will be unlikely to deal major players because the race for playoff spots is tight. Besides, there don't appear to be many quality players available, and certainly no one of Primeau's caliber.

"We're not going to be able to replace him," said Clarke, who nonetheless will look to bring in a winger.

There is enough salary-cap room for another player "if one becomes available," Clarke said.

Primeau was injured on Oct. 25, in Montreal, when Canadiens rookie Alexander Perezhogin delivered an elbow to his jaw. At first, Primeau said, he was encouraged by how he responded to the hit.

He had missed part of the 2003-04 season with a concussion before he went on to be the Flyers' best player in their run to the Eastern Conference finals.

But two days after the hit, he said, he began to feel sluggish. Still, he played two more games before he could play no more.

"I kind of tried to avoid what my body was telling me," said Primeau, who has played in only nine games this season. He said he wouldn't make the same mistake again.

"Maybe it was my fault in the past to try to play through head injuries, not really understanding the true ramifications of concussion on top of concussion, which now I fully understand," he said.

"If I were to be hit again while still suffering these symptoms, I could be in a whole lot of hurt, and that's one of the biggest reasons the doctors wouldn't give me clearance, because they didn't feel comfortable I could avoid long-term problems," Primeau said.

Although the Flyers have become accustomed to playing without Primeau, the finality of his loss seemed to sting them.

"He's a fighter and he's battled through a lot of stuff, so to have to make that decision at this time and at his age, it's got to be tough," Eric Desjardins said.

"It's tough for us, too, to know he won't be back," Desjardins said. "We've played without him most of this year, but still you always like to have warriors like him going down the stretch and into the playoffs. It's a shame. Hockey is really important in his life, but to live life normally with his family is what he should be focusing on now."

One of Primeau's closest teammates, Sami Kapanen, added: "It's disappointing and it's kind of sad. But at the same time, he has to be smart about it, and you don't want to put your health on the line when there's so much life after hockey.

"He's a family man with a wife and four kids, and you don't want him to get to a point where he'll be suffering during everyday life.

"It's a big loss for us. We were hoping sooner or later he'd be coming back and helping us late in the season and especially in the postseason. He's been our leader for years. But he made the right decision."