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March 1, 2006 - As expected, Primeau calls it a season

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As expected, Primeau calls it a season

Flyers captain unable to return after 4 months of concussion symptoms

By ED BARKOWITZ
barkowe@phillynews.com

KEITH PRIMEAU took his seat alongside Flyers chairman Ed Snider and general manager Bob Clarke yesterday and announced the news that everyone was expecting, but still dreading.

After being unable to shake the concussion symptoms resulting from a hit by Montreal's Alexander Perezhogin on Oct. 25, Primeau is shutting it down for the rest of the regular season. There is a miniscule chance the Flyers captain could return for the postseason, but even Primeau acknowledges that it would pretty much take a miracle.

"I don't know if I've fully come to terms with the decision I had to make. I'm a hockey player. That's what I do," he said as his voice began to shake. "That's what I want to do. I don't come by this decision easily, but it's the best decision for my health."

Primeau thanked the medical support staff, which included eight doctors (EIGHT!), three physical therapists, a massage therapist and Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin.

Primeau, who has been the Flyers captain since 2001 and was so brilliant in the 2004 playoffs, was fidgety during the news conference, staring aimlessly at his fingers and wringing his hands.

"My wife [Lisa] is in the other room and she told me if I got emotional, she was coming in and she was going to smack me upside the head," he said. "That's probably not what I could use right now."

Then he laughed.

There is a loophole that allows for players on injured reserve to return for the postseason, like Peter Forsberg did for Colorado in 2002, but Primeau, who played just nine games this season, is an unlikely candidate for that.

"If I was to feel better in time for the playoffs, it will be 2 years since I've played consistently and that makes me susceptible [to another injury]," he said. "So, though that's a long way off, I would say no."

Primeau, who will turn 35 on Nov. 24, is targeting a return in time for September training camp. He still will be visible at the practice facility, getting treatment and such, and coach Ken Hitchcock said that Primeau's presence would help a lengthy playoff run.

"It's important for our team that Keith be around," Hitchcock said. "He's our captain. He's not just another player on the hockey club. He's our captain. Any help that he can give another player is good. He ought to stay around the team as much as he could."

Primeau said yesterday that doctors have warned him a violent hit before he's healthy could lead to a stroke. Until Primeau returns, Derian Hatcher will continue the role of interim captain.

Shutting Primeau down gives the Flyers about $2 million to play with in advance of the March 9 trade deadline. Some of that money will go to Phantoms callups used to plug other holes. Ryan Ready, for instance, will take Simon Gagne's place in the lineup tonight in New Jersey.

A portion of that money also could be used to finance another salary gained in a trade. A few interesting names have been tossed around, such as Sergei Samsonov (Boston), Olli Jokinen (Florida) and Tyler Arnason (Chicago), but Jokinen and Arnason are centers and Clarke said yesterday he's not necessarily looking for that position. Samsonov is a left winger.

Another problem is that the new trade deadline is 2 weeks earlier than before, and many teams are hesitant to pull the plug on their season and deal a key player as long as there's even the tiniest chance of a playoff berth. Right now, 25 of the 30 NHL teams still have a realistic chance of qualifying for the postseason.

Hitchcock said the Flyers' top priority is catching the Rangers and winning the Atlantic Division. New York is three points up on the Flyers and is in town tomorrow.

Sami Kapanen, a close friend of Primeau's, acknowledged his disappointment that No. 25 will no longer be taking the ice this season. He also said there is a bigger picture to think about. "If you're not healthy enough to play, you don't want to go out there and risk further injury," Kapanen said. "He's a family man. He has four kids and a wife. You don't want to go out there, get hit and get to a point you are suffering every day for the rest of your life."