THERE ARE not a lot of questions left.

Jim Dowd

and

Bryan Berard

have been released,

Claude Giroux

was assigned to the Phantoms, and

Luca Sbisa

was signed to a rookie contract that will allow the Flyers to keep him into the start of the regular season.

There are a few injuries to watch - Steve Downie's knee, Ryan Parent's shoulder, Antero Niittymaki's hip, a few sore hip flexors need time - but other than that, bring on the Rangers.

All that is left is for the Flyers to do some good ol' team bonding (back to West Point this year), play another Spectrum tribute game - this one against the Phantoms - and the march to May is set to begin.

As training camps go, this one seemed quick and drama-free. It's a shame that Dowd and Berard were let go. Dowd made it last year on a tryout contract and Berard probably would have also.

But this is a different year. The Flyers are deep and young and at the NHL-contract limit. Each team is allowed a total of 50 and when Sbisa was signed, the Flyers reached 49.

"At the end of the day, it just comes down to a numbers thing," general manager Paul Holmgren said about the release of the two veteran players.

"You're only allowed 50 contracts, and we're right at 49. It's just one of those things where you don't want to risk getting to 50 because you never know what's going to happen.

"The reason we wanted them in camp is because they are high-quality people and very competitive people. Jimmy did a great job for us last year, but it just comes down to numbers sometimes."

Both Dowd, 39, and Berard, 31, are now free agents and could probably find a home for another season if they are lucky. It's more likely, however, that they will retire.

Playing with pretty close to their season roster, the Flyers concluded their NHL preseason with a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Newark Saturday night.

Danny Briere had a decent night with a goal and two assists, but it wasn't enough. Probably the best thing coming out of preseason is Simon Gagne. He seems to be on track, free of the concussion symptoms that ended his season early last year.

After the game, the Flyers bused off to West Point for yet another team-building session. Most of these players have been through the experience in one way or another, but they always seem to look forward to it.

Last year, they were running around in the rain forest in Whistler, British Columbia, and it was raining. This year, it's the U.S. Military Academy.

"I like it," Briere said. "We've all done it before, but it's a good way to bring the guys together. And last year it helped us get off to a great start, so maybe it will this year."

Don't count him out yet

I ran into

Derian Hatcher

at the local coffee shop the other morning. He was on his way to the rink, and for a guy staring at the possibility of retirement, he was in a pretty good mood.

Then again, he usually is. The thing about it was when I asked him how his knee was, he answered, surprisingly well. "It feels really good right now," he said.

I suggested he might be thinking of trying to prove everyone and his knee wrong and, well, he just smiled and said, "You never know." *

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