PHILADELPHIA – When he first came down the hallway to the Devils’ locker room at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night, Wayne Simmonds was all smiles.
He politely answered media questions about facing his old team, the Flyers, for the first time and what kind of reception he expected from the fans.
But beneath it all, one of the most popular players in Flyers’ history was frowning.
Why? Because, in reality, he could have remained a Flyer for years to come if he had received a decent offer for a new contract prior to last February’s trade deadline.
Adding to the ill feelings: The Flyers could have made him an offer when he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. But they chose not to.
Instead, Simmonds signed a one-year, $5-million deal with one of the Flyers’ most hated rivals, the Devils.
Speaking bluntly, Simmonds indicated time has yet to heal the wounds with Flyers’ management. That goes all the way back to the Ron Hextall regime and continues through that of current GM Chuck Fletcher.
“I don’t know how to say it – if they didn’t want me or whatever it was,’’ Simmonds said. “It was what it was.
“To be honest with you, I think I was a little bit bitter. I put so much time, sweat and tears into this organization.
“I thought I did everything I possibly could to deserve at least a little bit of an extension. It is a business, at the same time.’’
What bothered Simmonds the most was the way he perceived the lack of an offer to be a slight on his talent and what he meant to the Flyers.
“It also sucks to hear that you’re obviously not thought of as what you think you’re thought of,’’ he said. “So it definitely put a little bitterness into it for me.’’
Simmonds said the two sides never got close before the deadline.
“I think we were probably too far gone at that point, to be honest with you,’’ he said. “Most of the dealings we had were with ‘Hexy.’ They didn’t go too well.
“When Chuck came along, I think it was a little too far along at that point. I think they were just looking to recoup some different things. Obviously I was that player.’’
Things never warmed up in the summer either.
“No, not really,’’ Simmonds said. “I clearly wasn’t the piece of the puzzle they wanted to be here. So why would I want to come back?
“It has nothing to do with the fan base or anything like that. It’s just the way things are, you have to put things in the rearview mirror. You know, keep it moving.’’
Simmonds suffered perhaps the worst year of his career last season, mostly because he was still recovering from abdominal surgery in the 2018 offseason.
That probably played a part in his decision to settle for the Devils’ one-year offer.
“I have complete faith in myself,’’ he said. “Whether I had to take a one-year deal or whatever because I know I’m going to come back and be a great player this year.
“I just had to find a team that was willing to take a chance on me.’’
That team was never going to be the Flyers.
He says he’s fully recovered from his surgery.
“I feel great now,’’ he said. “I’m a million times better than I was last year. Doctors told me last year to take six months. It took me six months just to heal, not to prepare myself for a hockey season, mentally and physically, but this year I’m feeling good.’’
On a lighter note, Wayne and his wife (Crystal) welcomed a new daughter (Kori) this past summer, so that’s been a bit of a life-changing event.
Simmonds was pleased to visit his old stomping grounds, although it felt strange going into the “opponent’s’’ locker room.
“I feel good and it’s nice to come back,’’ he said. “I played in L.A. but I kind of grew up in Philadelphia. So it’s nice to be back for sure.
“I don’t even know what’s going on over here (opponent’s room). Didn’t know to go left or right.’’