Wayne Simmonds had just finished describing the season from hell.
He was the Flyers’ 2017-18 version of the walking wounded, fighting so many injuries that he lost track running them off in late April.
At the time, no one would have blamed Simmonds for lacking some aplomb. Sitting at his end-of-the-season press conference, Simmonds was destined for surgery to address a tear in his pelvic area while coming off a stability-shaken year that produced his fewest goals (24) and points (46) over a full campaign since 2010-11.
Then again, it takes a lot to knock down a player like Simmonds.
This wasn’t going to do it.
When asked if he believed he would be fully healthy for 2018-19, Simmonds responded with a resounding confidence.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “One hundred percent, no doubt.”
Simmonds, a driven athlete, might have the most fuel he’s ever had in a Flyers uniform. There are motivational factors flying at him from every angle and would you expect anything different than Simmonds embracing them all with open arms?
“When you’re as dedicated as Wayne is and you put in the effort, the time, the preparation on a daily basis and get better every year, that’s what we all should strive to do,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in March 2017. “I think Simmer is an example for everybody to get better every year.”
What exactly is the motivation this year?
For starters, Simmonds is about to step foot into a contract year, unless his representation and Hextall agree on an extension beforehand. That very well could happen, but the Flyers may want to see Simmonds prove his health and production. Not only would that serve as reassurance on the soon-to-be 30-year-old, it also could help with trade value, if the Flyers decide to contemplate that route.
“If it has to go into next year, we’re comfortable with that,” Hextall said July 1.
Such a scenario wouldn’t be a terrible idea for Simmonds. A loud and fast start to 2018-19 would provide him leverage in what he’ll ultimately receive from the Flyers or elsewhere.
So, many eyes will be watching Simmonds’ production. From where it comes will be one of the more intriguing storylines throughout.
With the Flyers, Simmonds has built himself into an elite power-play producer. Since the 2011-12 season, his first in orange and black, Simmonds owns 86 man-advantage goals, second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin with 131.
Which made it hard to believe when Simmonds lost grip of his first-unit net-front role down the stretch last season. The power forward went down from Feb. 20 to March 4 with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening the door for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who impressed with his savvy and skill around the blue paint.
Patrick netted three power-play goals during Simmonds’ seven-game absence and never lost his spot the rest of the way. He led the Flyers with five markers on the man advantage over the final 23 regular-season games and dished out this beauty of an assist.
That pass tho 😍
Voracek puts the Flyers up 1-0 after an incredible pass from Nolan Patrick. pic.twitter.com/oCkeO6Inq1
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 9, 2018
Simmonds, a team-first guy who was never healthy, took it in stride.
“I’ve played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you’re not at your top, you’re probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should,” he said after the season. “I know that’s what maybe went down at the end, there’s not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn’t 100 percent and I understand the situation that we’re in, the position that we’re in, we were fighting for the playoffs.
“While I got hurt there, Patty got put on the first power-play unit and scored two goals the first [two games], so what am I going to argue with? The kid’s a heck of a hockey player and he earned it, he definitely earned it, and there’s not much I can say. Just going to go out there once I got back and do what I can to help the team.”
None of this is to suggest Simmonds won’t regain his post on the power play. When healthy, there aren’t many better at it, but the competition is clear with the rise of Patrick and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, a net-front guy himself.
Even before JVR jumped back into the picture, Simmonds saw his ice time dip. He played 15:13 during the Flyers’ last six regular-season games and just 14:36 in six postseason contests. Simmonds simply wasn’t himself. As a result, he was relegated to a third-line slot and may see the same in 2018-19 now that the Flyers are deeper.
“He can play every way,” Hextall said about Simmonds when the Flyers inked van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. “He’s net front on the power play, he’s a physical player, forechecker, straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up top or certainly down your lineup.”
No matter where he plays, Simmonds will be motivated, maybe even a little ticked off.
That’s a scary thought.