Philadelphia Flyers

Finally healthy, Primeau longs to return to hockey

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Finally healthy, Primeau longs to return to hockey

It will be two years this June.

Two years of complete health for Keith Primeau.

Two years during which his post-concussion syndrome is far, far behind.

“I’m very lucky,” the former Flyers captain said. “I knew what normal felt like and I am lucky to have gotten back to there. I worked toward that goal. A lot of guys can’t do it. It spirals out of control.”

Primeau retired in September 2006 after playing just nine games the previous season because of a blind elbow to the head from Alexander Perezhogin on Oct. 25, 2005 in Montreal.

From that day through much of 2012, Primeau suffered terribly from post-concussion syndrome, yet tried to live a normal life coaching his sons, dabbling on the business side of minor-league and junior hockey, and even putting himself through college.

Now, he’s fully healthy and wants to get back into the pro side of things off the ice.

“I’m feeling good and consistently good, which is the biggest thing,” Primeau said. “I didn’t want to get myself into a [job] situation that I could not get myself out of if I didn’t feel well. Since June 2012, I’ve been feeling good.

“It’s time to get back. I’m OK to start at the bottom and roll my sleeves up. There’s a lot of clubs out there that don’t know that I am healthy now or even available. I want to get back involved in the league.”

During his absence from the game, Primeau coached locally and held two front office positions with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers.

Truth be told, he’s been in the shadows for the past several years -- still living in Voorhees, N.J. -- trying to get healthy before committing to a full-time job.

Just getting through college –- he has a degree, earned in 2011, from Neumann University -- was a difficult chore in itself, yet it’s something the 42-year-old is proud of. He may not have won a Stanley Cup, but he’s got a degree in liberal studies.

“Our belief as a family was, get your education and neither my wife [Lisa] nor I had our college degrees,” Primeau said. “We tried to get our [four] kids to understand the importance and they’d look at us without a degree and that is the biggest reason why I went to school.

“Got my liberal studies degree from Neumann. I wanted to go back and get it, let my kids see it, and know it would help me in the business world.”

His oldest daughter, Kylie, attends Villanova.

This is an odd time for Primeau, who played six of his 15 NHL seasons in Philadelphia. He’s been away from the NHL side for almost a decade, and yet he’s had an impact from afar that people don’t know about.

He provided input for club chairman Ed Snider a few years ago for work on the NHL competition committee with regard to player safety. Even more important, he sat down with former NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan to assist him on safety as it pertains to head shots, concussions and punishment.

“When Brendan got the job, I was still very frustrated with what I saw at the NHL level,” Primeau recalled. “I didn’t think there was much going on. I went up there and he showed me the documentation, which indicated they were taking it very seriously.

“That offered some comfort. Brendan asked me if I could change part of the game for head contact and player punishment, what it would be? I did in document form and sent it to him. I look at the [rules] now and feel there are parts of my thoughts in there in the end result, for sure.

“My position was there is always a consequence for your action, whether intentional or unintentional. Doesn’t matter ... the other thing was we have to protect the player’s head. Head contact can’t be part of the game. Protect the player’s head, which wasn’t the case before, and you have to be as objective as possible. Take the human element out of it.

“You can’t be biased because this team is a good team that is supposed to win the Stanley Cup and this is their best player or this is the worst team in the league and he’s their worst player. You have to be able to say it’s apples to apples.”

Primeau captained the Flyers from 2001 until Derian Hatcher replaced him in late January 2006 when it became apparent Primeau wasn’t coming back that season. Turned out, he never came back.

“Keith has a lot of assets that a head coach would like in the NHL,” former Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “A lot of things that a head coach would find appealing. He’s been a captain. He has a player’s mind still. He thinks like a player.

“He’s had to change and learn to adapt his role from young to older player. He could talk to players and has experiences that would help a player. Selfishly, he would really help a head coach somewhere.”

Primeau captained one of the best, star-filled Flyers clubs in the past two decades that almost reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2003-04.

The roster was amazing and varied: Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte, Eric Desjardins, Simon Gagne, Michal Handzus, Kim Johnsson, Danny Markov, Todd Fedoruk, Marcus Ragnarsson, Sami Kapanen, Patrick Sharp, Dennis Seidenberg, Robert Esche, Alexei Zhamnov ...

It was a team that should have beaten Tampa Bay in the seven-game Eastern Conference finals series, yet was so banged up on defense, Kapanen was back there playing with a concussion. Lightning exec Phil Esposito would later say that Primeau was the most dominant player in that series. 

“Keith was a very good captain on a very challenging team,” Hitchcock recalled. “There were a lot of veteran players set in their ways. He had to captain that group. I felt he managed that group really well. ... The team he captained before the lockout, had we been remotely healthy, that would have been a championship team.”

This is what Primeau feels he can bring. Hitchcock was a tyrant with a veteran group of players that were part of their last hurrah as Flyers. Primeau became Hitch’s voice in the dressing room. No easy task.

“I tell my kids stories about Hitch all the time,” Primeau said. “He was tough. I know it happened in Dallas the first year until the lightbulb went out. The first three or four months I could not stand Hitch because of his delivery.

“Then I finally got past the delivery and listened to the message and 99.9 percent of the time, Hitch was bang-on. That is why we had such a good relationship. I became the conduit to the locker room.

“J.R. was always saying, ‘Hitch is always yelling at me.’ I said to J.R., ‘He yells at everyone. Get past that. Listen to what he is saying. He is saying the right thing.' That is the hardest adjustment for a professional athlete.”

Even though that Flyers team did not win the Cup, Primeau remains one of the all-time Flyer captains for handling a group that was mutinous, at times, given its difficult cast of personalities.

“Yeah, we should have won,” Primeau said. “If we only had some healthy defensemen. And we would have won the Cup if we had gotten by Tampa in Game 7. No question in my mind.”

A decade later, Primeau has moved on, but what follows next for him remains uncertain.

“What is it that I want to do and that’s part of the conflict because I am not entirely sure,” Primeau said. “I love coaching, which is teaching, but I have an interest on the management side.

“Ultimately, I want to move forward on the coaching side and being involved in player development from the mindset and approach to the game. Being on the bench side for seven years at different levels, I appreciate the coach's position a lot more than I did as a player.”

End to End: Jaromir Jagr is still available … Flyers?

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End to End: Jaromir Jagr is still available … Flyers?

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: Jaromir Jagr is still available … Flyers?

Boruk
It’s extremely rare for Philadelphia to have this endearing loyalty to any athlete following a one-year love affair, but from Day 1, Jagr connected with hockey fans on South Broad. He had the hair, the smile, the occasional salute, his tireless dedication to his craft, but there was more to it than that.

Understand one of the biggest reasons Jagr is so revered in Philadelphia was his decision to spurn the Penguins at the last minute to sign with the Flyers. He rejected old friend and former teammate Mario Lemieux so he could join their most heated rival. You just can’t buy that level of respect and admiration!

Playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell for much of that 2011-12 season, Jagr turned in a respectable 54-point season. That trio clicked for the first three months of the season, but Jagr started to fade after December as he re-acclimated his body and conditioning to the NHL’s 82-game schedule, which came four years after his last season in the NHL with the Rangers. He also struggled to contribute in the playoffs with one goal in the Flyers' 11 postseason games.

Since that season, Jagr has bounced around the league, playing for four different teams since 2012 — the Stars, Bruins, Devils and Panthers. His act would play perfectly on the Vegas strip, and Jagr has proven he can still contribute into his mid-40s. He’s recorded 30 assists in each of the past four seasons — a total that only 35 other players have achieved.

At the very least, Jagr deserves to outlast the NHL career of Chris Chelios, who played seven games for the Atlanta Thrashers at the age of 48.

If this Flyers team needs Jaromir Jagr to reach the playoffs again, then it's in some serious trouble. After further thought, why not bring Jagr in on a training camp invite, if anything, to make training camp fun again? He could fill our smartphones and tape recorders with quotes for half a season. He could mentor the prospects and put a smile on Little Mario (his nickname for Giroux). In fact, I could probably sway Jagr to return with little more than a gift card to Costco. He took $2 million for one year to join the Devils and then proceeded to score 24 goals and 67 points in 2014. If Ron Hextall was so inclined, he could sign Jagr at a 50 percent discount. One million dollars for one season would get it done.

Dougherty 
Flyers GM Hextall vehemently downplayed the idea of signing Jagr, or any other veteran free agent that would block the youth movement, on July 2. “Not the direction we're going in,” he said then. But as we enter the dog days of the NHL summer, Jagr remains without an NHL contract.

I don’t believe signing Jagr would fit into the Flyers’ plans. It doesn’t align with how Hextall runs his operations, and Hextall is on the record saying Jagr isn’t where he’s headed. But. How Jagr still doesn’t have a contract baffles me. He’s still productive and would improve any team that signs him. He would be an instant upgrade to the Flyers. There’s no doubt.
 
Perhaps the biggest roadblock as to why Jagr remains unsigned is the role he wants and the role NHL teams believe he’s capable of handling as he turns 46 in February. Last season, Jagr scored 16 goals and 46 points for the Florida Panthers, who have moved on from the future Hall of Famer. Those 46 points would have ranked sixth on the Flyers, and his 16 goals would have ranked fourth on the team — ahead of team captain Giroux’s 14.

Jagr remains in phenomenal shape. His workout regimen is one of legend. But as he approaches 50 years old, there’s no denying he wears down as the season goes on. That’s been the story the last few seasons in Florida, where he’s been ever so productive but has worn down. Perhaps Jagr realizes this, perhaps NHL teams realize this too.

Perhaps we’re making too much of the fact that Jagr remains unsigned. Could he decide to head back to the KHL, where he could be guaranteed a large role? I think that is very much a realistic possibility at this point in time. But I also believe teams could prefer waiting to sign Jagr, rather than bringing him in for the start of the season. I could see teams waiting out as long as possible before offering Jagr a contract enticing enough for him to sign.

And perhaps Jagr is OK with this too. It is astonishing to see him unsigned — I still think he belongs in the NHL and that he can still play, and play at a high level too. In the end, I do think we’ll see Jagr in the NHL again this season — when and where is the question.

I don’t think it will be the Flyers. But the obvious answer is: Yes, Hextall and the Flyers should consider Jagr. Every NHL team should. Because at 45 years old, Jaromir Jagr is still a very productive player and he will make an impact anywhere he goes.

Hall
Albeit an interesting thought and a bit more intriguing now with Jagr still out there, my answer is the same as when we discussed a possible Hartnell reunion.

No.

Jagr can still play — maybe he could help the Flyers in a few areas, both tangibly and intangibly.

But this season should be about taking a step forward by injecting more youth into the equation. The Flyers finally have some opportunity for prospects to make the jump and start their NHL development. And the kids are expected to make an impact, too. 

Last season, we saw the positives of having youngsters in Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. This season, it's time for many more. Hextall even acknowledged that just four days after the 2016-17 regular season ended.

"Our young players, they've done enough," he said. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."

If the Flyers wanted to sign Jagr, it would obviously be for one season. Still, that's one season of blockading a forward prospect from being here or playing meaningful minutes — someone like Mike Vecchione or Scott Laughton (yes, he's still a prospect and worth watching). Or, it could even change a lot for the likes of Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick.

As fun as it would be to see Jagr back in Philadelphia, the answer here is an easy no.

Paone
With all due respect to Jagr (and he's an absolute legend who's due a lot of it), that ship has sailed here in Philadelphia.

Let's weigh this out here: What could a soon-to-be 46-year-old Jagr bring to this group of Flyers?

Sure, he could bring that invaluable leadership and example to the Flyers that was so important during the 2011-12 season. Remember the effect he had that year alongside Giroux, who ran wild across the league with a career-high 93 points? A handful goals and points here and there from Jagr would always be helpful, too.

But no way does that stuff outweigh eating up a roster space for a young player who's ready for a taste of the NHL level and using any precious cap space on the oldest player in the league rather than keeping more of the already slim flexibility the Flyers have.

Hextall's vision is all about the youth and development from within. That's the focus of the club from top to bottom right now. Needless to say, Jagr doesn't come anywhere close to fitting that vision or focus. I doubt Jagr has ever even popped up on Hextall's radar this summer. Want proof? During a conference call earlier in the summer, Hextall was asked about Jagr and emphatically slammed the door shut on that idea in not so many words, as Tom mentioned above.

The fact of the matter here is the Flyers just don't have a spot on the roster or a role for him — Jagr never has been and never will be a fourth-line player. Why even consider him if there's no roster spot, no role, he doesn't fit the vision the team has molded for itself and if cap space is at a premium? Why even waste the energy or breath?

Do I feel Jagr will get picked up before the season starts? Yeah, I do, by a team closer to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that's looking for some veteran punch. And he'll make an impact because that's just what a legend like him does.

That team just isn't the Flyers.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

End to End: Should the Flyers pursue David Pastrnak?

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End to End: Should the Flyers pursue David Pastrnak?

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: Should the Flyers pursue David Pastrnak?

Boruk
Who wants a 21-year-old winger coming off a 34-goal, 70-point season in his first full year in the NHL? 

Sure, where do I sign up? I see, right below the names of the league’s 31 general managers.

I came across NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton’s tweet earlier in the week, when he mentioned that the Bruins may be looking at a trade as a possibility. That may be the case, but the probability is, I think, extremely low.

However, Boston has a history of shipping out top-end talent at a very early age. Phil Kessel was sent to Toronto following a 36-goal season, and Tyler Seguin was part of a blockbuster deal with Dallas in 2013. Both Kessel and Seguin were 21 years of age, which is unimaginable how one organization could part ways with such prized prospects at such an early age. In the case of Seguin, the B’s didn’t receive nearly the compensation from the Stars to justify the swap. Eventually, an organization has to learn from its previous mistake(s).

With that said, Pastrnak is an RFA and his options are limited: sign with the Bruins or demand a trade to another team. As Bruins Insider for CSN New England Joe Haggerty points out, the Bruins would demand a proven player, who will be under club control for the next several years. Haggerty mentioned Blue Jackets defenseman and Calder Trophy finalist Zach Werenski as an equitable return, or something close. Werenski was drafted eighth overall in 2015. Care to recall who the seventh player selected was? Ivan Provorov. How would you feel trading your future shutdown defenseman for the next decade as the starting point to acquire Pastrnak? Doesn’t have much appeal to me. Regardless of how well-stocked the organization is with defensive prospects, Provorov is a special talent and the Flyers don’t have another one quite like him.

I’ve seen this scenario before with other RFAs when Bobby Ryan was in Anaheim, and more recently, with Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames a few years back. Those two players continued their stalemate right up to training camp before hammering out long-term deals. Unlike the NFL, hockey players simply don’t like the idea of contract talks becoming a disruption just before the season begins. That’s how I think the Pastrnak scenario will eventually play out with him signing a multi-year extension somewhere in the $6-7 million range.

Dougherty
Last Monday afternoon, Lawton, an NHL Network analyst, former player, agent and general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, dropped a bombshell into the Twittersphere.

And so began the prospect of Boston losing yet another young stud.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney attempted to throw cold water on the rumors Tuesday. Sweeney told The Boston Globe in an email that he’s “not trading Pastrnak.”

OK, end of story.

Right?

Until Pastrnak signs his name on a new contract in Boston, we cannot count out the Bruins trading the 21-year-old right winger. Not with the recent history of Beantown.

First, it was Kessel. The Bruins couldn’t sign Kessel to an extension after his entry-level deal expired. They traded him to Toronto for two first-round picks and a second-rounder.

Then, it was Seguin. Whether it was immaturity issues with the then-21-year-old Seguin or his underwhelming postseason performance, we don’t know why, but the Bruins traded Seguin and he has since become a star in Dallas.

And then there is Dougie Hamilton, who was traded to Calgary after the Bruins failed to sign him long term.

(Interesting nugget: The Bruins drafted Seguin and Hamilton with the two first-round picks acquired in the Kessel trade.)

Back to Pastrnak. Sweeney would be incompetent as a GM to openly suggest trading Pastrnak is an option. The two sides appear to be locked in a stalemate, and for the Bruins, the recent contract extension the Edmonton Oilers signed Leon Draisaitl to is bad news. This could very well go into training camp. The end game could be Pastrnak signing a long-term contract with the Bruins. You think it’s a must-do for Sweeney.

The Flyers should absolutely keep tabs on the Pastrnak situation because he would be an ideal fit here. He’s a 21-year-old scorer with a 70-point season to his name already. He should only get better. I’m quite the conservative type when it comes to sports, and with the Flyers, believed by many, having the top prospect pipeline in the league, usually, I’d suggest staying on course. But Pastrnak is the type of guy you have to consider paying for.

I don’t know what the asking price for Pastrnak would be, but it would cost Ron Hextall a lot. Probably first-round draft picks and prospects. Maybe even an NHL player, too. The thought of adding Pastrnak to a young forward group of Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier and Jordan Weal is quite enticing, though. If he hits the trade market, the Flyers should be aggressive in pursuit of the Czech winger.

Hall
We're not sure if Pastrnak is being shopped whatsoever.

As Tom pointed out, Sweeney shot down the trade rumor pretty succinctly. And why would Boston even think of dangling Pastrnak on the market? This is a kid that at 20 years old, produced 70 points (34 goals, 36 assists) last season, good to be the second-leading scorer on a playoff team.

So sending Pastrnak out of Beantown would make little sense. Yes, he's still an unresolved RFA, but you'd think the Bruins would do whatever it takes to eventually get something done.

However, if Boston is actually contemplating the trade route here, the Flyers would be silly to not listen or make a call. One purpose of building organizational depth is to create flexibility for ways to improve.

The Flyers now have the prospects to be an attractive player in trade fields, if they so choose. Obviously, you don't want to throw away the farm, and the Flyers won't.

Pastrnak, though, is a stud 21-year-old goal-scoring winger. The Flyers would be naïve to have no interest in such a burgeoning talent.

With that said, this seems like a fantasy. I don't see Pastrnak being anywhere but Boston in 2017-18.

Paone
Absolutely. 

The Flyers should be all in on Pastrnak if he really is available and Hextall should be burning up the phone lines to talk Sweeney's ear off.

Pastrnak is exactly what the Flyers need and what they've lacked for years on end now — a young, dynamic winger who can just pile pucks into the net in the blink of an eye.

The Czech native, who just turned 21 this past May, has 59 goals already in his blossoming NHL career. And he's coming off a superb first full campaign as he potted 34 goals in 75 games last season. He's a maven on the power play, too, as he scored 10 while on the man advantage last season. 

Just imagine the things Pastrnak could do on the Flyers' top-line wing, which is where he would immediately be slotted. Imagine what he could do for a Flyers team that finished in the bottom third of the league with 2.59 goals per game.

Good thoughts, gang. Good thoughts.

But here's the thing — youthful, ultra-talented scorers like Pastrnak don't just grow on trees. If they did, every general manager in the league would shimmy up the tree themselves and pluck them off the branches in bunches to take back home.

Needless to say, that's not how it works. 

The Bruins' price tag to acquire Pastrnak will be steep. And rightfully so. Why should they just give him away?

But the Flyers have the reserves that could raise Sweeney's eyebrows.

The Flyers' farm system is so deep and stocked that it was named the top farm system in the league earlier this week by ESPN. And the fact of the matter is not all of those prospects will ever wear orange and black. The farm system not only helps improve the club from within, but it also gives Hextall and the Flyers the ability to be flexible and tap into those reserves and make exterior moves to help improve the club. This would be one of those times. 

What would it take to get Pastrnak south down I-95 to Philadelphia? Just spitballing here, but think a top prospect (maybe two), a high draft pick and a young, NHL-ready player. So let's say Travis Sanheim/Sam Morin (or both), a first-round pick and Weal. Again, just a shot in the dark with a guess there. The Flyers' untouchables should be Provorov (duh), Shayne Gostisbehere, Konecny, Patrick, German Rubtsov and Carter Hart. Anyone else I'd be at least willing to listen on. 

Poaching the organizational depth and handing over draft picks isn't Hextall's traditional way of doing business. But there are extenuating circumstances sometimes. And a deal for Pastrnak would be one of those times.