Finally healthy, Primeau longs to return to hockey

ap-keith-primeau-flyers.jpg

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.”

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.