VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) -Simon Gagne declined an offer to wear the captain's C once before. If Philadelphia offers perhaps the biggest honor in hockey again, he'll accept the responsibility.
Then again, there's no guarantee coach John Stevens will turn to Gagne. The Flyers locker room, which was devoid of strong leadership last season, is suddenly overflowing with options.
"It doesn't matter who it's going to be," Gagne said Sunday. "I think they're going to be well supported by a great bunch of veterans and young players that want to play hard every game."
In a role once filled by players like Bill Barber, Dave Poulin and Eric Lindros, the Flyers have had a captain's vacancy since Peter Forsberg was traded to Nashville last February. Stevens is using training camp as a barometer for his pick and won't make a decision until after Philadelphia's final preseason game and before the season opener on Oct. 4 at Calgary.
"We just felt it was very necessary to allow this group to be together for a period of time through training camp," Stevens said.
No player will wear the C when the Flyers open the preseason Monday night against the New Jersey Devils in Trenton, N.J.
With most of the roster spots and key lines already filled, this might be the most important camp decision for Stevens, who also will receive input from his veterans leadership group. He has plenty of options after a series of summer deals made by general manager Paul Holmgren.
Daniel Briere was a co-captain in Buffalo. Jason Smith (Edmonton) and Kimmo Timonen (Nashville) also were captains with other teams.
Derian Hatcher briefly wore the C on his sweater for the Flyers and Gagne turned down the opportunity to accept the same honor from former coach Ken Hitchcock in 2006.
Now they're all candidates to fill the role, and two of them could serve as alternates.
"Last year some leadership was maybe missing a little bit," Gagne said. "This year, I don't think it's going to be a problem."
Because of nagging foot and ankle injuries, Forsberg was a bust in his first season as captain. The injuries kept him out of the lineup and away from the team, crippling his effectiveness in the locker room during the worst season in franchise history.
Keith Primeau was the last great Flyers captain, serving until the 2005-06 season when lingering effects from a concussion cost him his career.
"I think we were unfortunate the last couple of years the captains were struggling with injuries," forward Sami Kapanen said. "But those were the guys we wanted to go with and I don't think there was any complaining about what we had."
Kapanen, a Flyer since 2003, believes a passionate captain like Primeau is exactly what the Flyers need.
"I think he was one of those guys that if he felt we were lacking something or something wasn't going the right way, he would make sure we would pick it up, do it the right way," he said. "You could guarantee once he stepped on the ice that he's giving his hardest and playing for the team and that's what a captain is usually doing."
While Briere, Smith and Timonen all bring veteran leadership - with or without a letter on their sweater - Hatcher said it would be tough for a first-year Flyer to serve in that role.
"You don't know the players, you don't the organization," said Hatcher, who served in 2006. "You've got to worry about adapting and other things let alone being a captain."
Gagne rejected the captaincy when Primeau was out with post-concussion syndrome because he didn't feel he was ready for the responsibility. Now, Gagne says he has the experience and maturity needed to handle the top role of locker room leader and liaison with the coaching staff.
The captain also is the only player allowed to talk with referees about rule interpretations.
No matter who serves, Kapanen said the Flyers would be in strong shape.
"If you have a C on the jersey, it's not just up to him," he said. "It's a team game and everybody needs to bring something in. You can't ask for too much from one player."