Flyers’ missing link: Another leader or two like Justin Williams

Justin Williams

      They have shooters who can put the puck in the net.

      They have defensemen who can stymie that process by an opponent.

      And they have a goaltender who figures to be among the best for years to come.

      What the Flyers most likely are short of are character players who lead by words as well as example.

      That became evident after the Flyers believed they had to unload veteran Wayne Simmonds at the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline because of contract issues.

      In many respects, Simmonds was the heart and soul of this team before he was shipped off to Nashville.

      That said, there were those who believed the 30-year-old was in steep decline because of his dwindling offensive numbers.

      While that may have been true, the fact of the matter is Simmonds was coming off core surgery similar to what Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere underwent following the 2015-16 season.

      Both of those gentlemen went on to have the worst seasons of their careers in 2016-17, mainly because it takes a year or more to fully recover from that kind of operation.

      While Giroux has been the captain of the Flyers longer than anyone in team history whose name isn’t Clarke, Simmonds held a crucial role from his position of alternate captain.

      According to multiple sources, it was Simmonds who did the majority of work to hold players accountable and responsible for their play.

      Think he was missed after the trade?

      The numbers speak for themselves.

      On Jan. 14, the Flyers were dead last in the Metro Division, nine points out of a playoff spot, and wallowing in the mud at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

      Then they went on a 13-3-1 run – including an eight-game winning streak – to get within three points of a postseason berth.

      After the Simmonds trade? The Flyers wilted, going 8-11-1, including five straight losses to end the season.

      Just a coincidence? Probably not.

      Jake Voracek made it known how much Simmonds was missed.

      “Simmer is a special guy, player and person,’’ Voracek said back on April 7, a day after the Flyers’ season ended. “He has been missed in the locker room. There are a lot of guys who can fill in those shoes but you are not going to get another Simmer in the locker room.

      “When you ask about Simmer, he’s been missed for sure.’’

      We bring all this up to point out that the Flyers need more players in the mold of a Chris Pronger, a Jaromir Jagr, a Peter Forsberg, a Mike Knuble or a Derian Hatcher.

      My colleagues are quick to point out the game has changed and those kinds of players are rare in this day and age.

      I respond with two words: Justin Williams.

      He’s a potential unrestricted free agent come July 1, he’s 37 and almost everyone agrees he loves it in Carolina and probably will re-sign there.

      But it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher to at least make a phone call and gauge interest in this former 2000 Flyers’ first-round draft pick.

      He’s just what the Flyers need. A guy who not only can still perform on ice but show Philadelphia’s young players how to perform in the clutch, under pressure.

      His last paycheck was $4.5 million per year and that’s probably his asking price moving forward.

      The way he led the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference finals with wins over Washington and the Islanders before falling to Boston speaks volumes about his competence.

      There’s a reason why Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour made Williams team captain: It takes one (meaning a leader) to know one.

      Chances are the Flyers won’t make a bid on Simmonds, even though we think it would be a wise investment.

      Let’s not forget, Fletcher said he did try to reach an agreement with Simmonds before the trade. Maybe now, both sides could reach a common ground.

      However, if that doesn’t work, we say make a strong pitch for Williams or, if necessary by way of trade, another player or two like him.

      The Flyers need more leaders in their room, and bringing in all the sharpshooters and powerhouse defensemen you want isn’t going to change that.

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About Wayne Fish 2472 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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