And since he never quit before, he surely is not quitting now.
Primeau could have quit Tuesday, when the Flyers had a Skate Zone press conference to announce that he would not play again in this regular season, a victim of chronic concussion symptoms that often make it seem like all around him is in a constant, blurry spin. With his wife in a nearby room having ordered him not to get emotional, Primeau could have said a goodbye to hockey and retired as one of the greatest-ever Flyers.
But instead of making the event a tribute to his hockey past, he took one, last, sweeping shot toward his hockey future.
"I will not be able to finish the season," the 15th-year veteran centerman said. "But I made the decision in hopes of prolonging my career."
For now, twin shots of hockey reality have Primeau bottled. There are the concussion symptoms that, despite the best efforts of a dedicated platoon of doctors, have persisted since he’d been injured Oct. 25 in a collision with Alexander Perezhogin of the Canadiens. Understanding that it would take more time for the fuzziness to fade -- and having acknowledged a worst-case projection of a stroke should he absorb the wrong kind of hit in the interim -- even his concussed brain was able to calculate that the number of his available physical options was zero.
The other pressing reality was the new NHL salary cap. In the past, there wouldn’t have been any reason for a player to call it a season in February, for the playoffs might jab into June, ample time for any medical miracle. But when Primeau scratched himself from the rest of this season, the Flyers gained roughly $1.3 million in cap space.
Physically and financially, then, Primeau was trapped. So for the benefit of his health, and for his team -- in whichever order -- he will step away ..for now.
Since the salary cap is so new and relatively untested, general manager Bob Clarke will continue to dabble in mad capology, hopeful of discovering a finely printed line that would make Primeau eligible for the postseason, even if the Flyers do spend that $1.3 million on replacements. Aware of that, Primeau plans to remain in as peak a physical condition as his continued rehab will allow. Maybe, just maybe, he could skate into an overtime playoff game, fire a goal from deep, and contribute to the Flyers winning a Stanley Cup. But that’s just one more wild thing spinning now through his head. No, his plan is to tack another eight soothing months onto his rehabilitation, hoping that the time and reduced deadline pressure will have him hockey-healthy by the next training camp.
Already 35, and having missed all of last season due to the work stoppage, and having played in just nine games this season, and with a history of concussion, there would be reasonable doubt that he ever again can be the sensation that he was in the most recent NHL playoffs. Expect this, though: Primeau is going to show up for that training camp in August as long as his doctors are not locking their arms and forming a wall around the rink.
"I feel incomplete," he said. "I still have some goals that I want to attain. But somebody also put it in perspective for me not too long ago that I have accomplished a lot of things that a lot of players haven’t and never will. That doesn’t give me any solace. But my intent isn’t to dwell on that quite yet."
Twice an All-Star, an Olympics gold medallist and always an on-ice presence, Primeau is destined to have his No. 25 retired at the Wachovia Center. His nine-goal, 16-point contribution to the Flyers’ 2004 drive to the Eastern Conference final alone should rate that, for there were few, if any, such singular displays of determination and production in the history of the franchise.
Yet that sensation of incompleteness remains, and that is not concussion related. Even if the Flyers win the Stanley Cup this spring -- and intriguingly enough, they remain the betting favorites to do so -- that would not make Primeau feel whole.
"No," he said. "That’s the ultimate prize that I am missing. But there are still a lot of things that I want to do in the game. One of those is to win a Cup. But there are still some other things that can be accomplished."
A return to the Flyers in triumphant defiance, perhaps as early as the upcoming postseason, or at least by the next training camp -- that would top Primeau’s list for now.
That’s his plan, anyway. For Keith Primeau never quit before, and he’s not quitting now.
To contact Jack McCaffery, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.