Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Simmonds, Wearing the A, Quick Hits

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SIMMONDS AN EMERGING LEADER ON FLYERS

Whether his team wins or loses or whether he records a point, Flyers second line right winger Wayne Simmonds is inevitably one of the hardest working players on the ice. Generating speed and power that belie the skinny legs that power his 6-foot-2 frame, the rugged Simmonds has emerged as one of the better combinations of physicality and goal-scoring ability in the Eastern Conference.

Something else he’s become is part of the Flyers’ leadership group.

“Wayne brings a lot to our team,” frequent linemate Brayden Schenn said after Simmonds compiled a playoff hat trick in Game Six of the Flyers’ 2014 playoff series against the Rangers. “He is one of those guys who steps us for us when we need it the most.”

Added Flyers head coach Craig Berube, “It’s just the mentality. Wayne competes every night and he doesn’t give up.”

Entering his fourth season with the Flyers after coming over from the Los Angeles Kings along with Brayden Schenn in a trade for former captain Mike Richards, Simmonds is a top candidate to replace the traded Scott Hartnell as an alternate captain for the 2014-15 season. Simmonds wore an “A” on occasion last season. Now, the 26-year-old appears primed to earn the designation on a full-time basis.

Apart from his productivity on the ice, Simmonds is one of the Flyers’ players who is most likely to exhort his teammates on the bench or in the dressing room. What is his message? Usually it is along the lines of “stick with the program.”

“Sometimes you can get frustrated and go off-system, and that’s when you get in trouble. We know we are a good team and what we can do when we play the right way,” Simmonds said on March 5 after a 6-4 win against the Washington Capitals.

For whatever the team’s flaws were with lapses of even-strength team defense and discipline, the Flyers certainly did not lack resiliency. During the regular season, the club won seven games and pulled away one point two other times when trailing after two periods. The club also deserved credit for righting its ship after starting out the season 1-7-0 and managing to score just 22 goals in the first 15 games. In the playoffs, the Flyers battled back to win all the even-numbered games in their series against the Rangers.

Simmonds was one of the players who led by example on the ice when the club needed to dig deep last season. Whether it was scoring a goal, delivering a hit (132 credited hits), winning a battle on the walls, dropping the gloves or stealing the puck (his 36 credited takeaways ranked fifth on the team), Simmonds played one of the most energetic styles on the team. That has been his norm throughout his Philadelphia career.

Rare is the night where Simmonds doesn’t seem fully engaged. If anything, his down stretches during the season seem to coincide with when he’s trying to do a little too much. As he has gained maturity as a player, he’s learned how to channel his energy and emotion a little better (although he is not infallible to discipline lapses).

Simmonds is coming off a career best 29 goals and 60 points in the regular season. Over the last few seasons, he has become a net-front fixture on the Flyers power play, and this is how he scores many of his goals (15 power play tallies last season). He has also worked to diversify his game a bit. Although puckhandling will never be his main strength, Simmonds also showed some scoring ability off the rush last season.

During the playoffs, Simmonds had five points in seven games against the Rangers. His totals included the aforementioned Game Six hat trick among his four goals. The other goal was a hair-raising empty netter in Game Two. Initially, Simmonds made what appeared to be a big mistake — skating the puck in front of his own net with two Rangers converging on him — but used his strength and determination to retain possession of the puck. In the neutral zone, Simmonds once again protected the puck for an oncoming Ranger. Finally he sent the puck into the vacated cage from a distance to seal the win.

Despite his scrawny-looking lower body, Simmonds has shown remarkable durability for a player who plays such a physical game. He has only missed three games in the last three seasons, and dressed in all 82 games in both the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons. In the meantime, the power forward compiled 106 penalty minutes in the 2013-14 regular season and 20 PIM in the playoffs.

Simmonds battled through some knee problems in the second half of last season, according to what Flyers club president (then still general manager) Paul Holmgren said after the playoff series loss to the Rangers. Simmonds himself described it simply as “bumps and bruises” that accumulated during the season.

The 2013-14 campaign was the first season of a six-year contract extension that Simmonds signed to pre-empt restricted free agency in the summer of 2013. The deal has five more seasons to run at a $3.975 cap hit. In real-dollar salary, Simmonds will earn $3.2 million in 2014-15 after getting paid $2.8 million last season according to Capgeek.com.

The backloaded deal gradually escalates with each passing season until hitting $5 million in the final season. Simmonds, who has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019.

Over the course of his career to date, Simmonds has been a classic late bloomer. This is a player who was in Junior A hockey at age 17 and went unselected in the 2006 NHL Draft before getting a chance in the Ontario Hockey League with Owen Sound and becoming a late second-round pick (61st overall) by the Kings in the 2007 Draft. While with LA, Simmonds showed potential to eventually become a 20-plus goal scorer but he was more of a supporting cast player who delivered energy and physical player than a leading offensive player.

With each passing season, Simmonds has gotten better and better and his role has grown. As next season rolls around, the young veteran will be counted upon as one of the keys to keeping the Flyers on track to remain a playoff team. A realistic goal if he stays healthy is to achieve his first 30-goal season in the NHL and to post another 60-plus points.

************** QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 9

* With Kimmo Timonen likely to miss most or all of the 2014-15 season, the Flyers will probably name another alternate captain from among the defense corps. The most obvious candidate to wear an A may be Mark Streit, who formerly served as the captain of the New York Islanders and has a similar veteran presence to Timonen’s. Another candidate could be Braydon Coburn, who is the longest tenured player on the Flyers’ roster.

* Timonen will participate in the fourth annual Flyers Celebrity Golf Invitational to raise money for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. It should be note that playing golf is not a forbidden activity for Timonen. Conversely, playing hockey is extremely dangerous for someone taking blood thinners. The golf event, which will be held on Sept. 16 at Trump National Golf Club in Pine Hill, NJ, is expected to raise north of $1.5 million to support inner city hockey in the Delaware Valley. All Flyers players will take part.

* Flyers Alum birthday: Len Hachborn turns 53 today. A high-scoring junior player in the OHL and AHL, Hachborn was drafted by the Flyers in the ninth round of the 1983 Draft. He played parts of the 1983-84 and 1984-85 campaigns with the Flyers.

Playing under coach Bob McCammon, Hachborn notched 11 goals and 32 points in 38 games during his rookie season with the Flyers. A serious knee injury suffered in January 1984 set the player’s NHL career.

Mike Keenan, who took over as coach in 1984, was not as enthused about the player’s NHL potential as his predecessor and reduced his role. Keenan considered Hachborn to be a bit soft and one-dimensional. In 40 games in 1984-85, Hachborn posted five goals and 22 points. He dressed in four playoff games as the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals, and also appeared in 14 AHL regular season games with Hershey (six goals, 13 points). His 1984-85 season was interrupted variously by bruised wrist, a sprained shoulder and minor injuries from a Jan. 1985 car accident.

Hachborn did not earn an NHL roster spot with the Flyers for the 1985-86 season. He returned to Hershey, posting 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 23 games. On Dec. 6, 1985, the Flyers sold Hachborn’s contract to the Los Angeles Kings in a cash transaction. He went on to appear in 24 games for the Kings, scoring four goals and five points.

Hachborn never appeared in another NHL game after the 1985-86 season. However, his professional career continued until the 2001-02 season. The player had a 107-point season in the high-scoring International Hockey for the San Diego Gulls in 1991-92. He later went to play for numerous teams in several other North American minor leagues as well as for clubs in secondary European leagues.

* Today in Flyers history: On Sept. 9, 1993, the Flyers acquired defenseman Stewart Malgunas from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 1995 fifth-round pick (David Arsenault).Four days later, he signed a two-year contract with the Flyers.

Although not very fleet on his skates, Malgunas was physical and game. He started 67 games for Terry Simpson’s 1993-94 Flyers, missing 16 games due to a pair of knee injuries. When Bob Clarke returned as general manager and Terry Murray was hired as coach the next summer, the team rapidly cleaned house on defense. Malgunas wound up with the AHL’s Hershey Bears (apart from four games with the big club after the end of the half-season NHL lockout).

The Flyers elected not to re-sign Malgunas in the summer of 1995. He signed with the Winnipeg Jets, where he was reunited with coach Simpson. Malgunas started 29 games for Winnipeg before a trade to Washington.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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