The irony of Steve Downie's reappearance in the Flyers' locker room yesterday was not lost on Derian Hatcher.
Just a day after the NHL put the Flyers on notice to get things under control after five flagrant head shots resulted in the suspension of five players, the Flyers recalled Downie, the first of the suspended players.
"It's kind of funny that he's back after everything that happened," Hatcher said. "He was kind of the poster boy for all of this."
Hatcher referred to the fact that the Flyers have lost 55 man days to suspensions since the preseason because of checks that were determined to be deliberate head shots by the league.
On Monday, Riley Cote was suspended for three games for a late third-period hit on Dallas Stars' Mat Niskanen on Saturday night. After suspending Cote, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren that any further incidents would result in disciplinary action against the organization.
Cote's suspension left the Flyers with a hole in the lineup and they filled it with Downie, whose 20-game suspension for a flying head shot to the Senators' Dean McAmmond ended last week.
The latest suspension and league warning also left the Flyers a team looking over their shoulders.
"This makes it tough for everybody to play," Hatcher said. "Look at a guy like [Downie]. If he gets a chance to run someone, it's a thought that will be on his mind."
Still, Hatcher said he is looking forward to having Downie back. "He was a good player for us in camp," Hatcher said. "We all thought he had a good chance of making the team. We know what he brings, he plays hard and he gets under people's skins."
The fact that Downie is back playing with the Flyers in an atmosphere more suitable to a goldfish in a glass bowl - one tiny infraction and the whistle blows - will make it difficult for the hard-nosed center to play.
Downie's reputation is for having a temper he sometimes can't control and for playing a very physical game. He is also a skilled player, but the gritty, 5-11, 192-pounder makes his living with loud hits as much as nifty plays and he is not about to change.
"I'm not going to change anything," Downie, 20, said yesterday. "I'm going to keep working hard and playing with intensity. But you have to play within the new rules."
For Downie, his first 3 months in the NHL have not been what he hoped for. He sat for an entire month when the AHL ruled that it would honor part of the NHL's lengthy suspension.
He came to Flyers' camp as a player that coaches and management were looking forward to having in the lineup, but also as a kid with a reputation of being suspended for both in-game and in-practice infractions.
"It was really tough when I couldn't play in the AHL," he said. "But then when I did start playing it was good. The line has gotten thinner and thinner for me. I have to learn to play within the rules."
Downie had one goal, 11 assists and a team-leading 63 penalty minutes in 13 games for the Phantoms.
Coach John Stevens said he has not committed to playing Downie tonight in Minnesota, but the chances are good that he will.
"If there was ever a time for [Downie] to be disciplined it's now," Stevens said. "We need a player." *