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Flyers' defense will look new next season

Defensemen Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher probably used up every syringe the Flyers' medical staff had at its disposal this season, particularly in the playoffs.

Defensemen Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher probably used up every syringe the Flyers' medical staff had at its disposal this season, particularly in the playoffs.

"The injections they took," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "Derian was getting fluid taken out of his knee every day."

Smith, 34, has two dislocated shoulders and possible cartilage tears that will require surgery. Hatcher, 35, has chronic inflammation in his right knee, and he suffered a fractured right tibia near the end of the season.

The odds are that one or both won't be back next season, since Holmgren said this week that the team needs to be more mobile on defense. Hatcher couldn't skate well. Smith couldn't hit or take a slapshot and was vulnerable to the rush from the outside.

"A lot of days, it wasn't great," Smith said. "Some days it was OK. . . . Certain games, I could not be as physical as I'd like. That's a part of my game I like to be - being physical and playing hard out there. Some games, I concentrated on being better positionally and not what I could do out there."

With so many needles draining his knee, Hatcher was a human pin cushion.

"It's tough," he said. "There are times you get sick of the needles here and there. It was definitely tough. The toughest part was going out there and not knowing every night. Some nights you feel good and some you don't, and when you don't, it inhibits you quite a bit out there."

It's about to get tougher for both. The Flyers could have re-signed Smith, their captain, during the season, but chose not to. It's not likely that he will be re-signed. Around the NHL, the talk is that he will sign with New Jersey, which asked about him at the trade deadline. Smith's family likes the Northeast and loves New York City, so it would makes sense if Smith signed with the Devils.

"I don't know," he said when asked about the Devils. "Obviously, I got wind of that story. I'm a Philadelphia Flyer right now. I spoke to [Holmgren] on numerous occasions about looking at the future and we'll deal with that as time comes. . . .

"You kind of cracked the seal on the possibilities of what this team can do this year. To move forward and maybe be part of it is something you'd enjoy. I'm happy here. My family has adjusted well. There is a great bunch of guys in the dressing room."

The organization has serious questions about Hatcher's ability to play more than a half-season at $3.5 million. If a decision had to be made today, and knowing that Hatcher's knee is unsound, the Flyers likely would request that he go on long-term injury (LTI) so they could take his money off the salary cap.

Hatcher said yesterday that a discussion on his health and possible retirement would take place soon. He wants to finish out his contract for next season.

"I try not to think about it, but I know I will have to soon," Hatcher said. "I want to play. With that said, I know that physically, my knee might not let me play. Somewhere along the line, I will talk to Paul Holmgren about it and probably have to think about it. I've played hockey all my life - since I was 2 years old. It's a part of you. I think that is why I don't want to think about it."

The Flyers need to make room on the back end next season for 21-year-old Ryan Parent, who made strides this season and was forced into emergency duty during the playoffs. The club would like to add a major puck-moving defenseman. The most versatile free agent around is Montreal's Mark Streit, who moved from defense to forward against the Flyers in the playoffs.

San Jose's Brian Campbell will be the best free agent out there on July 1. Flyers center Danny Briere is close to Campbell and may be asked to act as a recruiter, in the same way goalie Marty Biron recruited Briere last summer.

"I will definitely ask him, if it comes to that, and give him info just like Marty did for me," Briere said. "As far as speed and rushing the puck up the ice, he is one of the best in the league. There's no doubt about that. You look at where the league is going, you see more and more defensemen like him, guys who can move the puck and skate well."

Campbell and Biron are not close friends. Biron didn't think Campbell took the game seriously when they were teammates in Buffalo.

"Brian is a single guy and likes to have fun," Briere said. "But I think he takes the game seriously. To get to where you are, you need to be. I don't think it's an issue."

Braydon Corburn, Kimmo Timonen, Randy Jones and Parent figure to start next season. That leaves two spots - one for someone coming in and one for Lasse Kukkonen, Smith, Hatcher or Jaroslav Modry, who also is not likely to be re-signed.

"We have to go through some internal stuff here over the next week to 10 days and try to come up with the direction we want to go," Holmgren said.

Carter's contract. Center Jeff Carter left no doubt he wants to be re-signed before July 1. He is a restricted free agent who could earn $5 million. "I want to stay in Philadelphia," Carter said. "I want to be here for a long time. We have to sit down with [Holmgren], my agent [Rick Curran] and everybody, and get it done as soon as possible. . . . This is where I want to be."