When the Flyers training camp opens Friday, a familiar face will be back on the ice - but for how long?

Defenseman Mike Rathje, who missed 64 games last season with sciatic nerve problems in his back, is giving it one final shot.

"I've got some soreness, but I feel pretty good," Rathje said. "I still have some symptoms there, but it is not getting worse. I get sore, but I can rest after I skate and it usually goes away. I don't know if it is Piriformis [Syndrome] though."

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren reiterated yesterday during rookie camp that he will know more about Rathje's health by the end of the month, after camp and exhibition games.

"He's sore right now," Holmgren said. "Is it a soreness most players gets this time of year from being on the ice? We'll see. It's too early to tell."

Rathje underwent dual hernia surgery this summer to tighten up his groin and abdominal area. He also swam every day.

"I am getting better and stronger," he said. "I go day-to-day-to-day and see what happens. I am not going to throw a career away. I will exhaust every option I have."

The Flyers' salary cap is $48.9 million without Rathje, who remains on the long-term injured list. That leaves them $1.4 million under the $50.3 million cap. If Rathje were to make the team, the Flyers would be over the cap. There are 12 defensemen who could make this roster.

Rathje remains a long shot. He's not going to move Kimmo Timonen, Jason Smith, Derian Hatcher, Braydon Coburn and Lassse Kukkonen from the starting five. Who's the sixth starter? Is it Rathje, Randy Jones, Alexandre Picard or Denis Gauthier? The Flyers won't keep a $3.5 million player as a seventh defenseman.

Gauthier has turned flab into muscle and looks like an NFL linebacker. "I have to win a job in this camp," he said.

The Flyers could waive Rathje to the Phantoms or ask him to waive his no-trade clause.

Loose pucks. Former New Jersey Devil Jim Dowd is in camp as a checking line center. Defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick and former Flyer Jesse Boulerice also are on tryouts. . . . Defense prospects Kevin Marshall and Ryan Parent have looked good in rookie camp, which ends this afternoon with a scrimmage against the Washington Capitals' rookies.

Big Eaters Will Like These Flyers Tickets

The Flyers are selling a limited number of "all-you-can-eat" tickets for all 41 home games at $66 apiece per game. They will go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.

Individual game tickets also will be available Saturday at the Wachovia Center box office, online at PhiladelphiaFlyers.com, or by calling 1-800-298-4200.

The all-you-can-eat package includes hot dogs, soft drinks, popcorn, nacho chips and salsa.

There will be two concession stands behind sections 218 and 220 on the mezzanine level of the Wachovia Center for the all-you-can-eat ticket holders. Those fans will be identified by wristbands they receive at the game.