If Wayne Simmonds in fact competes in his last game as a hometown player in Philadelphia on Saturday night, what does that say about the Flyers and what they think of themselves?
Here’s one opinion: If Simmonds is gone on or before Monday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline, so are the Flyers’ postseason hopes.
You see, as we’ve mentioned in this space before, Simmonds’ contributions go far beyond what you might read on the stats sheet.
While he might wear an alternate captain’s “A,’’ he doesn’t need a letter to be a true leader on this team.
Were you paying attention the other day when Detroit’s Anthony Mantha ran Flyers captain Claude Giroux’s head into the boards late in Philadelphia’s 6-5 win at the Wells Fargo Center?
What would you expect to happen the following day in the rematch at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit? That’s right, Simmonds wasted no time dropping the gloves and getting in some clean shots on Mantha’s head.
That’s called standing up for a teammate.
The only reason Simmonds didn’t take care of business right away on Saturday is because the Flyers were in the midst of a four-goal meltdown and going to the penalty box only would have made matters worse.
Who do you think the media flocks to after a bad loss? Simmonds, because the guy tells it like it is. We’ve had some some good ones over the past 10 or 20 years – Kimmo Timonen, Mike Knuble and Danny Briere come to mind.
But for sheer, blunt honesty, Simmonds rates with the very best of them.
And don’t think for a minute the players don’t pick up on that. It’s all about the accountability.
Is Simmonds playing his final game for the Flyers on Saturday night?
He says he’s tried to focus on the task at hand. As he has already repeated a thousand times this season.
Yet he’s a realist, too.
“Could be a possibility,’’ he admitted after Friday’s practice at Lincoln Financial Field. “I think up until this point, I’ve just tried to go about my business as normally as possible.
“I’m going to be thinking about winning the game, not whether it’s my last game or not with the Flyers. We have points to get for this playoff race and that’s all my brain is processing right now. All I can control is I’m a Philadelphia Flyer right now.’’
Naysayers may look at Simmonds’ numbers, his age and the fact that he’s going to want a lot of money on his next contract.
Well, are they considering the fact that Simmonds is coming off core surgery last offseason, sort of the same medical holdback that plagued both Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere during the 2016-17 season?
Giroux, by the way, had the worst season of his career because he just wasn’t healthy.
As for age, let’s not forget that both the contracts of Giroux and Voracek are going to end when they are in the 34-35 range.
The Flyers could have worked out a deal a couple years ago when he was 28 that probably would have taken him to the same spot.
Why shouldn’t Simmonds feel some resentment? The Flyers made big commitments to their other core players – Giroux, Voracek, Gostisbehere, Sean Couturier. Even fifth- or sixth-ranked defenseman Andrew MacDonald got six years for $30 million and that was in 2014 dollars.
Consider this number: In the past seven years, Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL in power-play goals. No. 2? Wayne Simmonds.
Consistency: Here are the goal numbers (non-labor-shortened years) prior to this season – 28, 29, 28, 32, 31, 24. With 16 goals and 21 games to play, there’s a good chance he will get to at least 20 again this season.
When I think of Simmonds, I keep getting images of him taking on six foot-13 Jamie Oleksiak in a barn-burner at Pittsburgh back on Dec. 1.
At that particular juncture in the season, the Flyers needed someone to snap them out of their daze. They had lost six of their last seven. Two games back, they had been bombed at Toronto, 6-0, which turned out to be the last straw of the Ron Hextall regime.
The season could very well have spun out of control right there, but Simmonds fearlessly challenged the lumbering giant and held his own.
The Flyers won the game that night and you can believe me when I tell you the admiration for that act of bravery was radiating on the faces of his teammates for days.
Yes, hockey is a business and all that. And yes, no doubt the Flyers can get a nice draft pick by moving Simmonds to a serious contender like Nashville.
Plus there’s always the slim possibility Simmonds could be traded and then come back to re-sign with the Flyers after July 1.
But none of that really means much. Wayne Simmonds is that rare difference-maker who simply cannot be replaced.
Send him packing and you might as well start planning for next season’s training camp.
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