The Flyers said yesterday that high-scoing center Danny Briere will miss four or five weeks because of a "significant" groin strain.

They also said the injury had nothing to do with rushing him back to action.

Maybe. But something sure looks fishy.

Earlier this season, Briere had abdominal surgery and missed six games. He then returned to the lineup much quicker than expected, played two games and suffered a groin strain. Originally, the club said the groin injury was not related to the abdominal problem.

Yesterday, Briere said doctors told him the injuries WERE related.

I'm not a doctor, but I can connect the dots. When you connect them, it screams that the Flyers brought Briere back too soon.

After the initial groin-strain injury, Briere missed nine games, then returned and played briefly Tuesday in a 4-3 OT win against Tampa Bay. He lasted less than half the game before re-aggravating the injury.

Briere said doctors told him that, even if he didn't return to the lineup Tuesday and sat out another week or two, the injury could have resurfaced.

Maybe. But it says here the Flyers need to start taking a more cautious approach before a player returns from an injury.

In addition to Briere, defenseman Ossi Vaananen was re-injured in the early stages after his return. Earlier this season, Vaananen missed three games with a broken finger. In his first game back, he tore the stitches in his finger and had to sit out four more games.

The latest injury to Briere opens cap space and will enable the Flyers to activate defenseman Randy Jones, who is recovering from hip surgery. Jones may be ready in mid-December. The defense is playing well, however, and they would be wise not to rush him back.

In the meanwhile, with Briere out until sometime in January, one wonders if the Flyers will make inquiries again about free-agent Bendan Shanahan. The guess here is that they will ride out Briere's absence by using one of three hard-working, impressive players who have spent most of the year with the AHL Phantoms: Darroll Powe, Jared Ross or Jon Kalinski.

Down the road, when Jones and Ryan Parent both return from injuries, they will have to make a decision on whether to keep 18-year-old Luca Sbisa or send him to juniors.

Nobody asked me, but.....Sbisa needs to stay. He has become a valuable defenseman (and power-play contributor) and is playing beyond his years. Sending him down will only stunt his development.

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In case you missed it, Phil Sheridan wrote a terrific column on Scott Hartnell's glove-throwing escapade in Tuesday's bizarre 4-3 overtime win over Tampa Bay.

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Jones had hoped to be ready for Saturday, but is now aiming for mid-December.

"There were some more issues with the hip and it's not 100 percent," he said after yesterday's practice. "It has to be 100 percent for at least a week or two for me to come back. It's just starting to turn around a little bit."

    Jones estimated the hip was 80 percent healthy; he may be able to return Dec. 16 against Colorado .

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   Marty Biron (2.95 goals-against average) will be in goal tonight for the Flyers. Scott Clemmensen (2.55 GAA) and Kevin Weekes (2.87) have filled in for New Jersey because future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur (2.16), whom the Flyers defeated twice this season, is sidelined for at least a couple more months with an elbow injury….In the fans’ vote, the Canadiens are leading for all six starting spots for the Jan. 25 all-star game in Montreal. Flyers center Jeff Carter, who has 18 goals and is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead with Buffalo ’s Thomas Vanek, isn’t on the all-star ballot and the organization is starting a vote-in campaign. Fans can vote at….The NHL has put Scottie Upshall on notice for his major boarding penalty on Tuesday….A little over 900 tickets remain for tonight’s game.

_ Sam Carchidi