The youth movement is upon us in Philadelphia. The blue line will likely be shored up by some first timers, and we may see a debut or two from some forwards as well. This isn’t common for the Flyers. Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren’s “rebuilding on the fly” idea was always good for some interesting moves come either the trade deadline, draft, or free agency. When Ron Hextall took office, he took it by storm. He was convinced that the farm system is what was going to make this club successful. A few years later and here we are, possessing one of the most enviable young pools of blue line prospects the NHL has to offer, and a deep pool of forwards that aren’t too shabby either. As these years go by, these kids keep getting bigger, stronger, faster, and to sum it all up, better.
So let’s do something like Ron Hextall would do: look towards the future. Fast forward to the 2018-2019 offseason. Let’s say that the Flyers played another mediocre season of hockey, hell, maybe even snuck into the first round and got demolished by a President’s Trophy winning Capitals team or, even worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The season played out just like we all thought it would with the newcomers providing a little bit of spark when needed, everybody contributing, and the vets starting to feel their age. Contract talks begin, if they haven’t already, and one big name is being discussed as a possibility to let walk out the door. The Wayne Train may be pulling out of Philadelphia come 2019. Is it a good idea? Will his production be missed? Who would step into his spot in the lineup? Let’s take a look at a few possibilities.
Wayne Simmonds came to the Flyers as part of the deal that sent Mike Richards and Rob Bordson to the Los Angeles Kings in return for himself, Brayden Schenn, and a 2012 second rounder, which was then sent to the Dallas Stars and turned into Devin Shore, which netted Nicklas Grossmann in return. In his first year in Philly, Simmonds doubled his goal total from the year before, and netted 49 points. It wasn’t quite the production that Mike Richards put up, but along with Schenn, they amassed 67 points combined that season, essentially making up for Richards’ 66 points the previous year in the orange and black. From there, things took off for the pair of former LA prospects. Schenn’s point totals all the way up until last year grew larger than the previous, and Simmonds became a consistent 20 goal scorer, minus the lockout shortened year in 2012-2013. All in all, Simmonds is an above average player that puts up decent point totals year in and year out. His consistency is one of his finest traits. But what if someone else in the organization is willing to come in and put up those same type of numbers at a similar consistent rate, but at a cheaper price?
Let’s make no doubt about it, Simmonds’ $3.975 million dollar cap hit currently will go up once his contract potentially expires. Wayne is a stalwart in Philadelphia. He embodies the Broad Street Bully mentality. He can beat you by putting pucks in the net, or actually grabbing ahold of you and physically beating you. However, when you think about it, around the same time his contract expires, Philadelphia has a plethora of talent down in the minors and even juniors that could step in and make some noise for the big club.
You have Nolan Patrick, who is bound to make the Flyers this year, but also will play center. The Flyers need a 2nd or 3rd line center to fill the void left by Brayden Schenn, and Patrick is the man to fill that void. You also have last year’s first round selection in German Rubtsov. Rubtsov is a natural center, but also versatile enough to play, and thrive, on the wing as well. Among others that could potentially step up and fill a void left by Simmonds includes Taylor Leier, who has already had a stint or two in the big leagues and played a very serviceable role when he filled in. Then there’s Connor Bunnaman who just signed his entry-level deal, and a budding prospect in Cole Bardreau, not to mention guys like Scott Laughton and Mike Vecchione, who were just signed to deals this offseason and will most likely fight it out for the fourth line center position with the Flyers.
With so many young options coming up through the pipeline, Simmonds’ point production could look to be replaced through in house means rather than Hextall doing something that he has rarely done since taking office, and pursuing one of the big fish in the free agent market and spending a lot of money trying to fill in a big void.
Given the plethora of ways Simmonds could be replaced, there is also the option of resigning him. After the 2018-2019 season, the Flyers will have a few players up for new contracts, and some may not prove their worth during their current contracts. You have Jori Lehtera, who joined Philly from the Blues in the Schenn deal and will have an expiring contract, along with the likes of Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal, all unrestricted free agents. Not to mention, both goalies currently on the roster will be up for new contracts that year, and there are a few restricted free agents that Hextall has expressed desire to keep around in the past. Players the likes of Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Mike Vecchione, Scott Laughton, Travis Sanheim, and Cole Bardreau also have expiring entry level deals. So what can we make of all this?
Well, for starters, Hextall will more than likely lock up Provorov and Konecny, and given his body of work up until that point, Vecchione may be expecting a bridge deal, similar to Michael Del Zotto’s “show me” deal that just expired. Sanheim will look to be another contender for a pay bump from Hextall, and more than likely, Neuvirth or Elliott will look to stick around and help usher in a new wave of goalies including the likes of Carter Hart, Anthony Stolarz, and or Felix Sandstrom. Out of the UFA’s, you can count on Weal getting a long look at a potential new deal, but other than that, the Flyers have the prospects to fill the void left by departing with guys like Michael Raffl and Jori Lehtera, depending on what Lehtera can bring to the table this upcoming season. So where exactly does this leave Wayne Simmonds?
Wayne Simmonds brings something to the table that any head coach or general manager envies. Wayne Simmonds brings heart. His gritty style of play has him beloved by the Philly faithful, and endears him to coaches alike. Heart isn’t something you can tell a rookie to do, heart is something you either have or you don’t, and Wayne’s is as big as anyone in the league’s. Fiscally, some options look better than others. Bringing up a forward to replace an aging Simmonds may be the way to go depending on if his play declines at all these next two years. Maybe there is a guy ready to go before the end of the year and Hextall decides to pull the trigger on a trade at the deadline and nets a 2nd round pick, a prospect, something in return. The options are endless, and so is the speculation and rumors about what could become of number 17 during his contract year.
What needs to happen is Hextall and his crew need to take a long look at their prospect pool before the 2018-2019 season and see if they are happy with one or two prospects potentially being called up to the NHL and replacing a guy like Wayne Simmonds. Maybe, and this is a big maybe, Philadelphia misses the playoffs again next year and by some crazy turn of events, nets another top 3 pick in the NHL draft and hits on a guy like Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, or Joe Veleno. That just adds another potentially pro-ready prospect to an already full group of prospects ready to make the jump, and more than likely, Simmonds will end the season, depending on their record at the deadline, in another uniform.
Good money is on a prospect being ready to answer the call, and Wayne being part of a deal at the deadline, or 2019 being his swan song in the orange and black. It’s an unfortunate thing to think about, seeing as he is among a select few that are considered widely as a fan favorite. However, all good things do come to a close, and we can only imagine the kind of standing ovation he would get in his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center. One could only imagine it would be something reminiscent of when Kimmo Timonen came back as a Blackhawk, or even his special night dedicated solely to him. That night, I happened to be in attendance, and I’ll be damned if there wasn’t a single person in that arena that didn’t leak a few tears.
Looking at everything the Flyers have going for them right now, the opportunity to shed some cap space and bring up another budding prospect is too good to pass up in this instance. At some point in the next year or so, the Flyers will say goodbye to Wayne Simmonds. People will praise the move, people will undoubtedly question the move. Regardless of your thoughts, that is why Ron Hextall is the general manager of the team. He will always do what he thinks is best for the club.
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports