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April 26, 2006 - John Smallwood | Time to put stop to Primeau drama

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John Smallwood | Time to put stop to Primeau drama

IDEALLY, FLYERS captain Keith Primeau would no longer suffer from any of the devastating postconcussion symptoms that have plagued him for close to 2 years.

If that were the case, there would be no better sight than seeing Primeau skate onto the ice tonight at the Wachovia Center and try to help lead the Flyers out of the 2-0 series deficit they face against the Buffalo Sabres.

But that won't happen.

Primeau said he wanted to play as soon as tonight, but after displaying some symptoms after the Flyers flew home from Buffalo Monday night, the longshot chance he had of playing in Game 3 was officially eliminated.

"He's certainly not going to play [tonight]," coach Ken Hitchcock responded yesterday when the question of Primeau's status was raised after practice. "He hasn't practiced with our team [yesterday], and he's not going to play [tonight]."

What wasn't said was whether Primeau would try to play Friday night in Game 4, Sunday in Game 5, if necessary, or later in the playoffs if the Flyers somehow rebound and overcome the Sabres.

And that's the problem with the entire Primeau situation. For a guy who hasn't played since Oct. 28, his playing status or lack thereof has become a dominant sidebar to the Flyers' playoff run.

Officially, the Flyers never have said Primeau was a possibility for the playoffs. Their last statement on the matter was at the end of February, when Primeau declared himself out for the rest of the regular season and likely the postseason.

But that was before the salary-cap loophole that made if possible for Primeau to play in the playoffs despite being deactivated for the regular season.

That was before Primeau started practicing again, traveled to Buffalo and told Daily News Flyers beat writer Ed Moran on Monday, "I'm close. I feel I'm close," and that he would "love to be in the lineup Wednesday night."

Even though Primeau qualified each statement by saying he did not know whether he would be healthy enough to play, the very notion that he was talking about it was a major issue at the Flyers Skate Zone yesterday.

For Primeau's sake, for his teammates' sake, for the organization's sake, this needs to stop.

Primeau's uncertain status and the daily twists and turns of the story have become a distraction this teetering team no longer can afford. The last thing the Flyers need to be doing is answering questions about Primeau's head.

I'll grant that much of the life of this story is the result of media speculation. But the Flyers have the ability to squelch a lot of that by being more forward when asked about Primeau.

Apparently, that's something they now realize they must do.

"I think we owe you guys a consistent evaluation of how [Primeau] is doing," Hitchcock said, adding that the Flyers will give a definitive status update this morning. "... I don't want to start this merry-go-round process with [Primeau], and we ought to keep you guys informed in the right way so that your stories are accurate."

It's been a difficult situation for the Flyers. Clearly, part of Primeau's recovery has been skating and practicing with the team, but every time he does that, it naturally raises the issue of whether he was returning to play.

Injured players never want to believe they are as far away as they might be, and teams, particularly ones with designs on championships, don't want to rule out anything until they must.

But when innuendoes become rumors and rumors become speculation and speculation becomes a distraction, you have a problem.

"The thing that's fueled here and festering a little bit is because [Primeau is] participating with us and he's trying to see where he is at, everything has kind of escalated to where, is he going to play, is he not going to play?" Hitchcock said. "It's going to create a distraction for himself and for us, so we ought to make sure we get you guys the proper information."

It was a wonderful thought - Primeau skating back as Captain Courageous, energizing the fans to the point at which the roof would have blown off the Wachovia Center.

But I only have to think of the sickening sight of Eric Lindros sliding on the ice in the fetal position after being smashed by Devils defenseman Scott Stevens in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals to decide that it's not worth the risk.

Whatever the result, the Flyers need to take control of this situation. Unless they make things crystal clear, things will remain murky, and that's not good for anyone.

"He's a man trying to play hockey," Hitchcock said. "He's a man trying to help our hockey team, and I admire that so much, what he's trying to do.

"But we have to make sure that there is long-term health here, too. I know what he said, and I know when he said it, but let's get the right information, so you know what's going on."