Thursday night vs. the Golden Knights, we got nearly everything we wanted which, in Vegas, is about as rare as a unicorn playing the trumpet or Dave Hakstol giggling during a post-game interview. These things usually just don’t happen.
However, in getting what we wanted - a 5-2 win vs one of last year’s cup contenders - we also received a reminder of the Vegas-style gamble the Flyers are taking with Wayne Simmonds this year. Scoring 2 goals and looking more like himself, Simmonds (30), may suddenly have fans and financial planners alike second guessing just how easy it would be to let him go.
Simmonds, as most people know, is in the final year of what has been a very team friendly deal, during which his cap hit has held steady at 3.875 million dollars. While that is, objectively, still a lot of money, it hasn’t truly been market value for a player like Simmonds for virtually the entirety of the deal. His contract has been very pleasing to the Flyers budget makers, no doubt, but if the team wants to extend him the accountants may start to develop a bit of a nervous tick, because the price tag is about to go up.
Most Flyers fans, writers, and contributors, including myself, have commented that while he deserves a significant raise, it’s not necessarily the smart money play for a team like Philadelphia to give it to him. Speculation about potential trades and what the roster would look like after he’s gone have been rampant at times, specifically in the middle of a down year, where he played through multiple significant injuries.
Perhaps most of this speculation has been driven by looking forward to next year, when Simmonds becomes a UFA, in the same year Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and others need to be re-signed. Even more speculation was likely fueled by the fact that James van Riemsdyk appeared likely to, at least partially, take his role. Everyone respects Simmonds, but as he almost seemed out of sight, out of mind, many appeared to forget what he’s capable of doing for a team that will potentially be ready to contend soon.
It’s been easy to tell ourselves the Flyers can replace Simmonds with youth and that this moment is exactly what we’ve spent our draft picks and time on - building a group of core players at lower levels that can replace his intangible and tangible assets. It’s been even easier to believe these things as we stared at line items on a budget or names on a piece of paper, but reality may be different. Now we’re potentially looking at Simmonds, as himself, for the first time in more than a calendar year and that’s bound to stir emotions and cause the Flyers and their fans to do a bit of a double take.
Wayne’s unique ability to not only score, but energize and invoke action among a group that’s too often required him to be a catalyst, is not something every player can bring to the table, regardless of age or pedigree. Simmonds, in short, shows up, usually in meaningful ways, and that’s precisely why he’s so respected throughout the league.
Thursday was a very visible and recent reminder that this decision may be harder and more important than most of us thought. His play will likely continue to impress as long as he’s on PP1 and part of a 3rd line that’s clearly built to be a mismatch. If so, Simmonds will proceed to push his chips to the middle of the table, seemingly saying, “you’re move Ron”.
Many have trivialized what Wayne Simmonds has meant to this team, a result of a laundry list of injuries which he played through, not quite looking himself. It’s been easy to look at his age, playing style, and the Flyers future needs and assume he’s going to falter or be a luxury the Flyers can no longer afford to retain when his price tag goes up. In this league, 30 isn’t as young as it once was. The problem is, when you buy a value item to replace a premium product, you get what you pay for and the Flyers are currently trying to build themselves up as contenders. This is a problematic balancing act that will likely include no “home town discounts”.
The truth is the Flyers are now slowly being pulled towards a time sensitive issue that only has a few possible outcomes and they are all ripe with potential pitfalls. The Flyers could use Simmonds as an “own rental”, meaning they’d simply keep him for this run and then allow him to walk. While that seems likely, in some respects, Ron Hextall has shown an absolute aversion to losing anyone, even AHL level players, to waivers. How would he reconcile losing Simmonds, conceivably coming off a great contract year, for nothing?
Of course, the Flyers could also consider trading Simmonds prior to the deadline, but almost any deal they’d make would theoretically weaken their NHL roster just before the playoffs. At the very least, it would represent a significant change, requiring months of chemistry to be reacquired as lines are juggled. This option wouldn’t involve losing Simmonds for nothing, but it might involve sacrificing playoff success, which has been something NHL GMs have, traditionally, had a hard time doing unless they’re well out of the race. I do not expect the Flyers to be in that spot. If they trade Simmonds, it will most likely be from a playoff position and some of the assets would have to be ready now for any deal to make sense.
Finally, there is the scenario in which the Flyers could actually sign Simmonds to an extension, however, this extension likely won’t be cheap or at the term most fans would like. Simmonds, one would imagine, realizes this is likely his last big deal and if his game vs. Vegas is any indication, he’s prepared to put up the numbers to justify the contract he’s been earning since he signed his current deal. On target to have a little more than 30 million in cap space next year, the Flyers have to make other signings, but also have the financial ability to squeeze Simmonds in. That said, as grounded and loyal as he is, Simmonds is going to need the financial security that’s provided by a deal that equates to his long-term production and the Flyers need some flexibility. As far as a deal, think big, like $7 million over 4-5 years as a starting point and that’s still, potentially, a little scary down the road.
So while locking up wins and watching Simmonds succeed, it may feel as though we’re playing no limit hold’em on the Vegas strip, which is, sort of, where this all began. The question is: what will we walk away from the table with? Will it be exactly what we came in with - a huge haul - or a giant hole in our pockets? The Flyers are gambling, no matter which direction they choose to proceed and if Simmonds continues to reassert himself as a key piece here, he’s playing with house money. This story is only beginning to truly heat up.