Desjardins yields helm as captain of Flyers Keith Primeau will replace the struggling defenseman, who said the responsibility was hindering his play.

Posted: October 24, 2001

His play hasn't been where it was a few years ago. The team has struggled to win games and hold leads. And even on a night when the Flyers get six goals, he finishes even in the plus-minus ratings.

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that Eric Desjardins announced yesterday that he was stepping down as captain of the Flyers.

Keith Primeau succeeds him as the 12th player to serve as captain, although there have been 13 captains because general manager Bob Clarke served in that capacity twice.

"I never felt I was doing everything right, which was a concern, and it was affecting my play because of it," Desjardins said. "I wasn't comfortable in it."

Desjardins, 32, a defenseman, has long been his own harshest critic. When the team doesn't play well defensively, he almost always points to himself as someone who should play better. Asked whether the team's slow start, which has paralleled his own, had anything to do with his decision to step aside, Desjardins gave a revealing answer.

"Maybe I wanted to be perfect and that is why I don't feel comfortable," he replied. "I feel a lot better today."

Through eight games, Desjardins is minus-3. His partner, Chris Therien, who is also having problems on the ice, is minus-4.

Desjardins met with Clarke and coach Bill Barber last week in Atlanta and told them his play was suffering amid the responsibilities of being captain. Clarke said yesterday that he, assistant general manager Paul Holmgren, and the entire coaching staff talked the situation over several times and suggested Primeau as a replacement.

Clarke said that he talked to alternate captains John LeClair and Mark Recchi, and that they agreed that the position should be given to Primeau, who in many ways has been the Flyers' leader on the ice ever since Eric Lindros stopped playing for the team.

"We felt Rico did a real good job as captain, and there were some trying times with the Lindros situation," Clarke said, using Desjardins' nickname. "We weren't aware it was affecting him until he told us."

Barber said it took "a lot of courage" for Desjardins to step down.

"We were totally understanding of his thoughts as to why," Barber said. "Rico has been a great captain for us and weathered a lot the last two years."

Desjardins was named captain on March 27, 2000, after Lindros had been stripped of his C for criticizing the team's training staff. Desjardins didn't mince words in saying that Lindros had dishonored the position and the organization by making public what some of his teammates felt was a private issue between a player and the club.

Desjardins said at the time: "You have to understand, you can't have the captain or anyone else on the team criticizing members of the organization and not have anything happen in return."

Desjardins said yesterday that leading the team in the months after taking over the job was "the easiest" time he had as captain, although from the outset, he never seemed relaxed in the position.

"I think he will be a much more relaxed person and a much happier person," LeClair said.

Desjardins was often overshadowed by Primeau, Rick Tocchet and Recchi as a spokesman to the media, particularly when the Flyers struggled.

His unassuming nature seemed to blend perfectly with former coaches Roger Neilson and Craig Ramsay. However, it was in sharp contrast to the personality of Barber and the aggressive style of play the Flyers employ under him.

Desjardins met with LeClair and Recchi last week before making his decision, even though he conceded that he had been thinking about the matter all through the summer and into training camp. He said that once he told Clarke he was stepping down, he felt "better."

"It's a brave move," Recchi said. "It's not an easy move, but it is probably best for him and the club because we need for him to be good. He feels he can't be on top of his game with being captain. And we respect that tremendously."

Tocchet said: "It takes a lot of [guts] to hand in the captaincy to get your game in shape."

Desjardins is the first captain to resign since Kevin Dineen stepped aside in 1994-95 for Lindros.

Primeau, 29, a center who has never worn the alternate captains' A except in the preseason, captained the Carolina Hurricanes in 1998-99. He would seem a better personality fit as a liaison between the players and Barber.

"My approach won't change," Primeau said. "This is my 12th year in the National Hockey League. From day one, I try to go out there the same way, day in, day out. Doesn't matter whether I have a letter on the sweater or I don't. It's my personality and the way I approach things.

"I won't change the way I approach the game. I'm going to approach my teammates the same way before the game and joke with them."

Primeau "is a gamer," Recchi said. "He comes to play. He definitely fits the orange, white and black. He will do a tremendous job for us."

Tim Panaccio's e-mail address is tpanaccio@phillynews.com.

Lou Angotti (1967-68).

Ed Van Impe (1968-69 to 1972-73).

Bobby Clarke (1972-73 through 1978-79).

Mel Bridgman (1979-80 through 1980-81).

Bill Barber (1981-82 to 1982-83).

Clarke (1982-83 through 1983-84).

Dave Poulin (1984-85 to 1989-90).

Ron Sutter (1989-90 through 1990-91).

Rick Tocchet (1991-92).

*Kevin Dineen (1993-94).

Eric Lindros (1994-95 to 1999-2000).

Eric Desjardins (1999-2000 to 2001-02).

Keith Primeau (named captain Oct. 23, 2001).

*-The Flyers had no designated captain in 1992-93.

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