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April 11, 2006 - Primeau practices with teammates

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Primeau practices with teammates

By ED MORAN
morane@phillynews.com

For a guy who has been trying to squelch rumors that he is attempting a comeback for the playoffs, Keith Primeau sure knows how to stir things up.

Primeau, a week removed from being angry about reports that he was trying to get healthy enough to come back to the Flyers in the postseason, was on the ice yesterday morning at practice in Voorhees, N.J.

He skated hard, hit players, yelled about missed passes and acted like the captain.

If it wasn't well known that he still is not healthy - and that weeks ago he declared his season over - there would have been no way of knowing he was on the long-term injury list.

"[My wife] Lisa said to me that as much as I've been trying to douse fires, I'm opening up a whole new can of worms," Pri-meau said. "And I understand that."

So what exactly is he doing?

According to Primeau, this is nothing more than the next step in his progression toward being a healthy hockey player again.

As he said during his season-ending news conference, he wants to play again and he is continuing to follow an aggressive rehab schedule that includes two-a-day workouts.

Is he trying to make it back for the playoffs?

"No. I'm saying no," Primeau said.

"My head is still not clear. So for me to stand here and say, 'Yeah, I'm trying to play in the playoffs,' that wouldn't be fair. I can't make any kind of decision like that until my head is clear.

"If I show up tomorrow morning and my head is clear, then Day 1 starts now. Then you know what, come see me in 7 to 10 days. And then at the end of 7 to 10 days, if I can say I've been clear for 7 to 10 days, I'll think maybe I can do this.

"But I'm not at that point. Maybe I will be in the summer, maybe at the end of the summer. I don't know what that point in time will be. But if [skating with the team] is going to cause a distraction, and I'll talk to [coach Ken Hitchcock] and I'll talk to [general manager Bob Clarke] and if they say it's a distraction, I have no problem continuing to skate on my own."

According to both Hitchcock and Clarke, Primeau is simply practicing with the team and there are no indications that will change. They welcome his presence.

Players said the same thing - publicly. Privately, there are some who have no doubt he is trying. Primeau has been skating for 2 months now and his conditioning is good.

"He is very demanding of other players," Mike Knuble said. "I have not played with him that much, but he is that type of guy who puts guys on edge a bit. That's good. Maybe that is something we need."

Clarke said that even though Primeau has been on the long-term injured list and that part of his salary already has been used against the NHL cap, teams are permitted to bring players back for the playoffs and not have the salary count because they are paid only during the 82-game regular season.

It's a very safe bet that Hitchcock would welcome his captain back, but what he said when asked was:

"Don't even go there. You guys have got to write what you've got to write. He skated with us for one practice, he enjoyed himself and it was good to have him back on the ice, but this is light-years from even thinking about playing ice hockey competitively again."

That much was all understood on Feb. 28 when Primeau, 34, sat at an emotional news conference and said he had finally put away hopes of playing again this season.

He had been told by the team's medical staff there was no way they would clear him to play.

But there he was yesterday morning, skating, hitting, yapping, and later, sitting at the stall that has been empty since last fall.

It is what he said he plans to do for the rest of the season. He's a hockey player and he wants to feel like one again.

Trainer Jim McCrossin gave the chances of a return something like "500,000-to-1. About the same that the oddsmakers are giving the Kansas City Royals of winning the World Series," McCrossin said yesterday.

Actually, the line for the Royals winning the World Series is 400-to-1. The reality is that if there is that one chance Primeau could return, McCrossin won't rule it out.

"I think there is an outside chance he could come back and play," McCrossin said. "But we're so far away. There's always a chance. We speak about it every day. We don't want to eliminate the chance but it's a long shot. I don't think it's that big of a chance.

"He's been cleared to come back and practice with contact. He's not cleared for contact. He hit people, but we didn't want that to happen."

And this is where reality comes in.

Primeau has made serious strides toward recovering from the early-season hit in Montreal that started his head spinning and left him unable to focus his eyes for very long.

But he has not played since Oct. 28 in Carolina. Since then Primeau has measured days by the number of hours he can go without experiencing postconcussion symptoms.

And they have not gone away.

"It hasn't changed," he said.

"I continue to work toward the goal and for me this is part of my therapy, getting back on the ice to see if I can do things on the ice," he said. "In the course of my biking and the course of my skating, I'm at the point where my next step was graduating toward practice, and that's what I did.

"If the course of my therapy interferes with the advancement of the team, then I will just go back to doing the other part of my therapy because I continue to progress there."