Ron Hextall was pretty blunt when declaring that the Flyers’ signing of James van Riemsdyk wouldn’t have any effect on the team’s plans to extend Wayne Simmonds.
“No, this doesn’t change anything with Wayne,” Hextall told the group of reporters in Vorhees that day.
But with the dust settled on free agency a little bit, it’s time to wonder whether the JVR signing does in fact have some ramifications for the Simmonds/Flyers relationship going forward.
In the immediate future, JVR could replace Simmonds on the top power play unit, where Simmonds has picked up most of his 86 man-advantage goals with the Flyers. Nolan Patrick filled in there when Simmonds was hurt last year and the unit kept posting good results even without the net-front presence. The Flyers’ coaching staff could overhaul things even further with a new net-front toy in van Riemsdyk.
The addition of JVR also pretty much assures that Simmonds won’t return to top-six minutes and will continue to man the right-wing on the third line at even strength. Given that the Flyers don’t currently have anything more than an average third line center at best, Simmonds likely won’t be producing a ton there either. That could change, of course, but given Simmonds’ struggles at 5-on-5 in recent years there’s a chance he continues to get bottom-six minutes at even strength with JVR being a far-superior even strength performer.
These don’t sound like the best things for a 30-year-old forward looking to break the bank in a contract year, that’s for sure. From the Flyers’ perspective, the two options with Simmonds going forward present some advantages and disadvantages, and there may not be an obvious path just yet.
Do nothing, re-access during the season, and before the trade deadline
If the Flyers just stand pat and play out the season, they’re looking at a top-seven of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, JVR, Nolan Patrick, Jakub Voracek, and Simmonds. That group is among the very best the league has to offer and would be fun as heck to watch if they stay healthy. That group would also help to improve the second power play unit by adding a player like JVR or Simmonds to young playmakers like Patrick and Konecny.
The Flyers expect to be a playoff team, and would surely take a hit if they dealt Simmonds now or even at the deadline. In that scenario, adding JVR would essentially be swapping out the two, given that one produces more at 5-on-5 and the other produces more on the power play.
This could be the route that Hextall goes as kind of a wait-and-see move, one that has plenty of pros and little cons. The pros are you can wait to see if Simmonds is healthy and bounces back from a down year, but still have a chance to sign him midseason or recoup value for him at the deadline. The con is that there’s the chance he drives the price up with a great season or even decides he’d rather test the market regardless of the way the season plays out.
The problem is that he’s in the last year of a deal that proved to pay him under market value and ended up being a steal for the Flyers. That contract carried an AAV of $3.975 million per season, well below what the market bears for 30-goal scorers. Look no further than the contract that Hextall just gave to van Riemsdyk, carrying a $7 million cap hit. And while there is a difference between cap hits and real dollars, Simmonds is due for a raise on both. It’s how much of a raise that remains to be seen.
OEL: 6x6.8— Matt Cane (@Cane_Matt) July 10, 2018
As of right now the Flyers have plenty of room to dole out some cash (nearly $14 million in cap space per CapFriendly), but things could get tight with three forwards already making at least $7 million against the cap. There are three pretty manageable deals on defense (save for Andrew MacDonald), but Ivan Provorov is up for an extension here soon and that figures to top the $5 million cap hit that MacDonald has.
But while Provorov and Konecny will be due for raises sooner rather than later, the Flyers have other prospects coming who will be on the cheap. Guys like Travis Sanheim, Morgan Frost, Philippe Myers, Oskar Lindblom, Isaac Ratcliffe, and German Rubstov will play on rookie deals while the big guns make their big bucks.
That bodes well for extending Simmonds, especially if the Flyers can find a middle ground around the $5.75 million cap hit the Caps found with TJ Oshie last June. Though that cap hit is quite good, and would be for Simmonds as well, it’d be hard to see Hextall go to the eight years the Caps did for Oshie. It might take a little higher of an annual value for Simmonds, but the Flyers would still have flexibility to go this route even after adding JVR.
Though the JVR signing doesn’t shut the door on Simmonds’ time with the Flyers, it will result in somewhat of a lesser role for him next season. What happens in that lesser role will likely determine whether or not Simmonds and the Flyers have a future together beyond this season.