Scott Hartnell deserves the recognition.

After all, he's been working on his "do'' for 17 months now, as in, he hasn't cut it. It's unruly and it makes him easy to pick out in a crowd, but it's so much a part of his personality that handing out wigs in his honor is far more appropriate than, say, a bobblehead doll.

So tonight, when the Florida Panthers come onto the ice in the Wachovia Center, they will be looking at thousands of Hartnell look-alikes, wearing long, unkept, curly wigs.

It's Hartnell Wig Night, and the first 5,000 fans, and all kids, who enter the building will be handed one.

Hartnell's teammates are getting a kick out of the promotion, but when asked yesterday about their irascible teammate being honored in such a way, they were quick to point out that he is deserving of being recognized for who he is as a player.

"He's a good player and he's having a great year for us," said captain Mike Richards. "If you look at the board and see Scott Hartnell, you're going to get a guy that can score and make plays. He plays tough, he hits, he frustrates the other team with his little chirpyness on the ice, but you know that he's going to have your back and that he's a guy you want to go into battle with."

It has been more than a year of hair for Hartnell. His 56 points and 27 goals are both career highs. He also leads the NHL in minor penalties with 50, and has 125 total minutes. Amazingly enough, with just 10 games left, he's lagging behind his total penalty minutes from last year (159).

But that's all a part of who he is, too, and the fact that he has a reputation for taking penalties probably contributes to him getting them. John Stevens thinks so, anyway.

"To be totally honest, I think Scotty is a victim at times," Stevens said. "There are clearly some penalties that he can do a better job at not taking, but I've seen him have some plays that I would encourage him to do again."

One such play was an open-ice hit on New Jersey's Brian Gionta as they were going toward the puck on Monday night. The 6-2 Hartnell came across and leveled the 5-7 winger with a shoulder-to-shoulder check that sent the smaller forward flying into the boards. Hartnell was called for boarding and New Jersey scored seconds after the penalty expired, but before the Flyers could recover from being a man down.

Stevens felt the hit was legal and doesn't want to see Hartnell back away from making more like it.

"Just because he seems to always be in the middle of things he sometimes comes out on the short end," Stevens said. "We'll live with those penalties. He hits Gionta, I think it was a great hit, an open-ice hit and I don't see it as being a penalty.

"If I had that play 10 more times, I would want him to take it 10 more times. It's just the unnecessary penalties of throwing your glove at a guy on a breakaway, things like that, I think we can eliminate. I think we can live with the rest."

Yes, Hartnell actually did that on Dec. 2 against Tampa Bay. Ryan Malone was in alone and Hartnell threw his glove at him from behind. Marty Biron stopped the penalty shot, but it certainly garnered Hartnell a lot of unwanted attention.

But his teammates all got a kick out of it and love what he brings to their team.

So what does he think of the wig?

"It looks pretty good and we'll have some fun with it," he said. "It's pretty cool. But it will be pretty weird seeing several thousand fans wearing the curly Afro mess. It's pretty funny and hopefully the kids enjoy it and people have fun with it."

He also hopes it survives until next Halloween.

"I'm sure there might be a couple of Hartnell renegades out there mucking it up in the bars," he said. *