Flyers may delay Briere's return

Posted: January 21, 2009

It appears the Flyers will delay Danny Briere's return from a groin injury - and it may have just as much to do with the salary-cap situation as it does the center's health.

"It's a little bit of both, to be honest," Briere said after yesterday's practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.

"I'm not sure about that," general manager Paul Holmgren said when relayed Briere's assessment. "He doesn't feel 100 percent just yet."

After practice two days ago, Briere said that he was "100 percent" healthy and that he was ready to return to the ice tonight against Atlanta.

Yesterday, Briere - who played three rehabilitation games with the AHL Phantoms without any problems - gave no indication he had a setback.

But Holmgren said the speedy center "didn't feel that good" after practice and that it was "likely" he would sit out tonight.

Keeping Briere out of the lineup tonight - a decision will be made after today's morning skate - would buy Holmgren more time to make the roster moves necessary to get Briere's $6.5 million salary under the $56.7 million cap.

After tonight, the Flyers are off for the all-star break and don't play again until Tuesday in Florida.

Sending defenseman Luca Sbisa to juniors and demoting defenseman Lasse Kukkonen and forwards Darroll Powe and/or Claude Giroux to the Phantoms are among the moves that may be made. A trade (Randy Jones?) is also possible.

"At this point, one game isn't going to change much," Briere, who last played for the Flyers on Dec. 2, said of possibly sitting out tonight.

Said coach John Stevens: "It sounds as if he's getting better and better, but we can't afford to have anymore setbacks where he's concerned. We've already been through it twice."

Sbisa, who will turn 19 on Jan. 30, has been a healthy scratch in seven of the club's last 13 games.

"I've been scratched a lot of times, and it's not too good not knowing what's going on," Sbisa said. "I know a lot of players have to go through that stuff, so it's just part of growing up."

Holmgren has met with Sbisa and Giroux and discussed the possibility of being demoted.

"The young guys concern me, and the only two I've talked to about anything moving forward are Luca and Claude," the general manager said.

Goalie Antero Niittymaki, who missed Monday's practice because of the flu, practiced yesterday and will face visiting Atlanta tonight.

In his career, Niittymaki is 11-0 with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage vs. the Thrashers. The Flyers are 13-0-1 against Atlanta since Nov. 18, 2005.

Asked if the thought of playing Atlanta sped up his recovery, Niittymaki smiled.

"I don't think so. I don't think a virus really cares about who we're playing next," he said.

Atlanta, which is led by Ilya Kovalchuk (48 points), is playing much better than when Niittymaki blanked the Thrashers, 7-0, on Oct. 28.

"It's a big game for us before the break," said Niittymaki, who scored a 3-2 shoot-out win Friday in Florida.

Breakaways. Mike Knuble, one of three Americans on the Flyers' active roster, was in a patriotic mood as he caught glimpses of yesterday's inauguration of President Obama. "You see millions of people there and [realize] just what a defining moment it is in the history of the United States," Knuble said. "There are a lot of things people have never seen in a lifetime, and I'm very proud to see it happen." Matt Carle and Andrew Alberts are the other U.S. citizens on the Flyers' roster. . . . Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall missed yesterday's practice with the flu but are expected to play tonight.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

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