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Newcomer Jason Smith is named Flyers captain

Just under six minutes remained in the opening period of a preseason game when Flyers defenseman Jason Smith dropped gloves with New York Rangers tough guy Colton Orr.

Just under six minutes remained in the opening period of a preseason game when Flyers defenseman Jason Smith dropped gloves with New York Rangers tough guy Colton Orr.

Before the period ended, Smith also would fight Brendan Shanahan. Yes, it was a meaningless exhibition game, but Smith's actions spoke volumes about why he was a captain for nine seasons in Edmonton - longer than Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier.

"He doesn't really do the one thing that stands out," said Flyers teammate Joffrey Lupul, who played with Smith last season. "He just does the right thing every day."

Yesterday, the 33-year-old Smith was named the 16th captain in the Flyers' 41-year history and only the fourth defenseman to wear the "C." Simon Gagne and Mike Richards were named alternate captains.

Acquired in the Joni Pitkanen trade over the summer, Smith brings an element that defines defensemen in the captain's role:

"Playing with confidence and not losing your composure or getting flustered," Smith said. "We have to be ready to play every night and playing at a high level and executing well. . . .

"That means yelling and screaming a little . . . making sure guys are calm and confident and ready to play at a high level and not getting down. Things can snowball quick because it is a very competitive league. We have to be ready to go at the start."

Flyers coach John Stevens considers Smith "a father figure" to a lot of younger players on the roster, 12 of whom are 25 or younger.

"He naturally looks out for the group and is an ideal fit," Stevens said. "He loves being counted on in that role."

Defenseman Derian Hatcher wore the Flyers' "C" two years ago.

"He brings intensity," Hatcher said of Smith. "If you watch him play through the years, the way he plays speaks for itself. He played that way in preseason - he had that intensity, that meanness, that drive."

"Jason has been one of the best leaders in the game," Gagne said. "He was the right choice and is the full package. He has everything in him to be a good captain."

Gauthier waived. The Flyers placed defenseman Denis Gauthier on waivers.

Without Gauthier's $2.1 million salary, the Flyers' team salary would drop to $46.8 million. However, with the addition of contracts and Phantoms players moving up to the NHL, the Flyers eventually will be close to the $50.3 million cap.

"It's something we needed to do to give us some options," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "Denis is very disappointed, and I understand."

Said Gauthier: "I've played in the league for nine years, and I know I can play. The younger guys are the cheaper option, and I fully understand that. I'm going to use today to be angry, and tomorrow we'll see what's ahead of me."

Fellow defenseman Mike Rathje is listed as unable to play, with back and groin injuries. He may retire by week's end.

Loose pucks. The Flyers open the season Thursday against the Flames in Calgary. Their roster is in flux because the team is unsure whether R.J. Umberger (broken finger) and Lupul (sprained left wrist) will be available to play. . . . The team will sign Jim Dowd ($500,000) and Jesse Boulerice ($475,000) to NHL contracts. . . . Riley Cote and Nate Guenin have made the roster. Either Ryan Potulny or Denis Tolpeko will begin the season with the Flyers as well.