The good news for the Flyers yesterday morning was that Randy Jones is medically cleared to play after missing the first quarter of the season recovering from hip surgery.

"I had to do some testing last week for the doctors," Jones said. "We did it and I felt great and passed it all and yesterday [trainer Jim McCrossin] gave me the call that the doctor cleared me for anything and everything. I'm really glad to have this over."

The bad news for the Flyers yesterday morning was that Randy Jones is cleared to play.

That of itself should not be seen as bad news, but it does place some fairly difficult issues on the tables of general manager Paul Holmgren and coach John Stevens.

Bringing Jones off long-term injury adds his $2.75 million contract into the team's already-tight salary-cap total. Holmgren apparently can dodge that bullet by switching the injured Danny Briere onto the long-term list.

Briere is out for at least another 4 weeks with a significant groin injury. But that will not change the fact that the Flyers have eight healthy defensemen and one more when Ryan Parent returns from his shoulder injury on Dec. 26.

Both Jones and Parent were factored into the Flyers' early plans for the set defensive rotation before they were injured in camp. The Flyers were forced to bring in Andrew Alberts from Boston and keep rookie Luca Sbisa, who could have been sent back to his junior team.

Now the Flyers, who already have Lasse Kukkonen out of the lineup, have to decide who to play and who to sit.

"They have some tough decisions to make," Jones said. "That's up to them. When I play my first game, I don't know yet. I'll wait and see."

The problem would have been easier for Stevens if the team was struggling as it was when Jones and Parent were in the early stages of recovery. But the Flyers have won 13 of the last 15 games and gotten points in 14 of them. They are second in the Atlantic Division as of yesterday, trailing the Rangers by four points with four games in hand.

When asked if Jones would play against Colorado tonight, Stevens said he wouldn't have an answer until today.

"Medically he's been cleared," Stevens said. "We just want to make sure he's been given enough time to get his timing and that he is game-ready before we stick him back in."

As for who would come out and who Jones would play with, Stevens couldn't answer that, either.

"That's the difficult decision we're going to have to make because we think the guys that have been playing have really stepped up in the absence of some of the injuries, including [when Matt Carle was out recently]," he said. "We're going to have to take a good player out when [Jones] is ready, but I think having healthy guys is going to be a good situation for us."

That is a typical answer for both an NHL coach and general manager, especially given the Flyers' history of having injured defensemen at the worst time.

Nine guys who can play in the league is a gold mine for any team. But they are talking about professionals making big salaries who do not want to become scrub players. Something will have to give.

One solution would be to send Sbisa back to juniors. At 18, that's the only place the Flyers can send him because he's too young to play in the AHL. It wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen to him, but would it be the best?

"We talk about Luca every day," said Holmgren, who is more than happy with the play of the kid, who is probably the fourth best defenseman on the team right now. "Is it something we've talked about? Yes, but it's not something that we want to do. I think he's played well enough to stay in the lineup."

One possibility would be to spot players in and out; Sbisa would be one of those.

"We've talked about that," Holmgren said. "I don't know if it hurts him to be a healthy scratch one game. If he has to be a healthy scratch for a number of games in a row, then that would become an issue for me."

But while this is a problem the Flyers say they are happy to have, it's a problem that is going to get harder to deal with as the season moves on.

"It isn't easy," Stevens said. "But it's part of the business and it is what it is. We'll make those decisions based on what's best for the team and we'll figure it out to make sure the individual is not lost in those decisions.

"We've said all along that we're going to need lots of good defensemen to get through all this and in the course of the season you can go from being healthy to being short in a hurry. We've seen that in the past. We saw it last year in the playoffs." *