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March 1, 2006 - Head over heart

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Head over heart


By WAYNE FISH
phillyBurbs.com

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Keith Primeau believes that by calling it a season, he ups his chances of not having to call it a career.

The Flyers captain, his voice nearly breaking at times, made it official on Tuesday when he announced at a morning press conference that because of the lingering effects of an October concussion, he will not be playing hockey again this season, including the playoffs.

Doctors have told him that if he extends the rest and recovery period for another full eight months, he gives himself an increased probability of coming back next season and lowers the risk of piling another concussion on top of two previous ones.

"Definitely," he told reporters at the Skate Zone. "In asking all the people closest to my condition, those people most important to me and what their thoughts were, the doctors believe I am going to get better, and they're very pleased with the progress I'm making, albeit slow."

Increased medication had improved Primeau's vision the past few weeks, but he still experiences spinning sensations after workouts. Time was running out for the Flyers to make a decision. The NHL trade deadline is March 9.

"I don't know if I've fully come to terms with the decision I've had to make," he said. "I'm a hockey player. I don't come by this decision easily. But it's the right decision, the best decision for my health."

Still, the possibility of playing again in the 2006-07 season offered little solace.

"I still have symptoms when I do my physical therapy," he said. "Because of that at this time, I'm not a hundred percent. I'm not symptom-free. Therefore I won't be able to finish this season. Again, I make this decision in the hopes of prolonging my career and will continue to strive to return in the fall."

It should be noted that after Primeau received a concussion on a hit from the Rangers' Bobby Holik on Feb. 12, 2004, he did not feel completely symptom-free until July 2005, even though he enjoyed his best Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring of '04.

"I made this decision difficultly," Primeau said. "I had hoped not to get to this point. Athough I have made progress in my recovery - my vision has cleared up in the last three weeks, it's a nice change of pace - it reminds me of the difficulty I've been having."

Primeau said he made the decision back on Jan. 29, the day Derian Hatcher was named to replace him as captain. After consulting with doctors, he realized a comeback this year would not be in his best interests.

And, even if he does feel better in April, he closed the door on the possibility of returning for the playoffs.

"The reason for today's press conference is one, to put to rest all the speculation about me returning this season and to afford the Flyers the opportunity to help our club win a championship," he said.

"I don't know the intricacies in regard to the salary cap, how the CBA works in regard to me coming back for the playoffs. In talking with [GM] Bob Clarke yesterday, this was the best route to take. If I was to feel better by the playoffs, it would be two years since I consistently played, that's unacceptable in itself."

Team chairman Ed Snider said: "We've missed Keith all year long. Everyone knows what he did in the last playoff, led us almost to the Stanley Cup finals. We really miss Keith, but I know this is best for him, for his future. I'm sure he will come to camp in good health, and we're looking forward to that."

Primeau said he has to consider his long-term health, his life beyond hockey, in making these decisions.

"I had injuries before and didn't understand the true ramifications," he said. "Concussion on top of concussion, which I now fully understand. If I were to be hit again while still suffering these symptoms, I could be in a whole lot of hurt. That's one of the biggest reasons the doctors didn't give me clearance. They didn't feel comfortable with avoiding long-term problems.

"I know the next decision [to retire] becomes an even bigger decision. But as [head trainer] Jim McCrossin said this morning: 'We look forward to the next press conference when you announce you're returning.' "