The Philadelphia Flyers acquired Wayne Simmonds on June 23, 2011—the opening of the summer blockbusters that jettisoned the faces of the franchise and changed the culture of hockey in the city.
Simmonds came to Philly from the Los Angeles Kings, along with Brayden Schenn, in exchange for former team captain Mike Richards and some guy named Rob Bordson.
Simmonds was immediately touted as the "perfect Flyer" by fans citing his hard-nosed, gritty play as reasons to fall in love with him.
And fans did fall in love, in the beginning. They flocked to Fan Gear for his t-shirts and jerseys while local newspapers and analysts called him some sort of hybrid reincarnation of Rod Brind'Amour and Dan Carcillo.
Simmonds started off in his new town well, scoring four goals in five preseason games as well as handling an unfortunate incident of ignorance and racism with class when a banana was thrown in his direction while attempting to score in a preseason shootout in London, Ontario. He scored and handled the situation in the media as well as can be expected.
He also contributed to Sean Avery's early season banishment to the New York Rangers' AHL affiliate when Simmonds allegedly used a homophobic slur against Avery. When Avery took on-ice matters public, the rest of the league said, "so what?"
Over the first seven games of the season Simmonds produced two goals and three assists, far eclipsing his own career average of 0.39 points per game over his three seasons in Los Angeles with the Kings.
Many expected Simmonds to continue growing offensively, a hope capable of justifying the trades and free-agent moves that saw over 240 combined points from the previous season walk out of the City of Brotherly Love.
Although the orange and black currently lead the league in goals per game, Simmonds has not been the contributor he was expected to be.
Over the past 18 games Simmonds has managed only three goals and one assist with a minus-4 rating, including a six-game stretch from October 24 to November 3 and a seven-game stretch from November 17 to December 2 in which he went scoreless.
Simmonds is currently 12th on the Flyers with nine points (5G/4A) trailing three defenseman—Kimmo Timonen (17 points), Chris Pronger (12 points) and Matt Carle (11 points).
The 23-year-old was also supposed to contribute a presence in front of the net to help bolster a Philadelphia power play that finished in the middle of the pack in 2010-11. Simmonds averages 3:31 of power play ice-time per game (fourth most among Flyers forwards) but has only two power play points (2G/0A) to show for his efforts, tied for fewest on the man-advantage unit with Matt Carle.
In the Flyers' last game, Saturday night in Phoenix, Simmonds netted a dirty-but-good goal in front of the net to make the game 2-0 early into the first period. Perhaps this success will lead a hot streak of sorts as the Flyers enter a tough portion of their schedule.
The Flyers have 11 games before the Winter Classic on January 2. They play Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay twice, as well as Buffalo, Washington, Montreal, Boston, Colorado, Dallas and the New York Rangers. A boost in both productivity and emotion could go a long way in accumulating points and creating a lead in the standings before the New Year and All-Star break.
The emotional boost was supposed to be Simmonds' speciality, as No. 17 was touted as one of the better agitator/middle weights in the league.
While Simmonds has dropped the gloves four times and fought to a record of 2-1-1 (according to polls on hockeyfights.com), his aggressiveness has been unproductive on the whole.
Simmonds was drawing opponents into penalties earlier in the year, but is currently only drawing an average of 1.2 penalties per 60 minutes, tied for only the seventh highest total on the Flyers, while taking 0.8 penalties per game (behindthenet.ca).
His 44 PIM are second on the Flyers behind only Zac Rinaldo (82), but his seven minor penalties suggest Simmonds is not playing as aggressively as was expected of him—as does hit hit total of 43, tying him with Braydon Coburn for fourth on the Flyers, trailing Max Talbot (44), Andrej Meszaros (50) and Scott Hartnell (51).
By all accounts, Wayne Simmonds has not lived up to the hype.
But 57 regular season games remain, and as the 10-plus new faces get better acquainted with their new teammates, coaches and roles and lines are solidified I could easily see a surge in Simmonds play.
And it is Simmonds' ability to step up at the end of the year that drew him national attention in the playoffs before the Flyers traded for him over the summer.
Simmonds has recorded three goals and three assists in twelve career playoff games—not world-beating numbers by any means, but the total eclipses his regular season PPG average. His 20 PIM in last season's playoffs suggest his aggressiveness lead to his increased playing time and offensive success.
The aggressive-type power forward, Simmonds has shown to be in spurts throughout his 277 career regular season and playoff games is the type that pays the highest dividends in playoffs when earning every inch of ice is a battle.
But Simmonds must step up now as several other veterans deal with their own injury and productivity issues to prove he is the guy sold to fans and management as the next true Broad Street Bully.
Now is as great a time any to string together a few solid games to build his own confidence, as well as the confidence of his teammates and coaches—and I sure would not mind to see Simmonds lower his shoulder into Sidney Crosby on Thursday when the Penguins make their first trip of the season to South Philly.
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