Flyers

Wayne Simmonds returns to where it all began in first All-Star appearance

Wayne Simmonds returns to where it all began in first All-Star appearance

It took the better part of nine seasons for Wayne Simmonds to become an NHL All-Star.

Once a very raw rookie with the Los Angeles Kings, he will make his way back to the city where it all began on Friday.

Unlike Jakub Voracek, who left Columbus as a Blue Jacket then returned for the All-Star Game as a Flyer, Simmonds doesn’t feel his career will be validated this weekend just because he’s been recognized as one of the game’s best stars.

Yet he does feel it took going cross-country for people to give him a second look.

“Yeah, I definitely think coming to the East Coast allowed people to see my game,” Simmonds said this week. “People kind of watch it more than they do on the West Coast.

“When you play at 10:30 every night, people don’t get to see what you bring out there. I guess you could say it’s validation.”

Simmonds, along with Brayden Schenn, came to the Flyers from the Kings a day before the 2011 NHL draft in exchange for Mike Richards.

Unlike so many players acquired in trades, Simmonds’ career has been one of shooting upward every season as a Flyer, regardless of who’s been coaching him.

This season, he is unquestionably the Flyers' MVP. He had the game-winning goal Wednesday night against the Rangers in New York. His 10 power-play goals are tied for second in the NHL.

He scored on Thursday against Toronto, giving him three straight games with a goal. His 21 goals also lead the Flyers.

“The day he was named our All-Star representative,” coach Dave Hakstol said, “I remember saying I can’t imagine a better player or person to represent the Philadelphia Flyers and what we’re all about.

“Wayne has earned it in every area — off the ice, on the ice. I’m sure he’ll be proud to head back to L.A. for the All-Star Game and he should be.”

Simmonds posted a career-high 32 goals last season and should eclipse his career-best 60 points this year, not to mention his goal output, as well.

Remember Scott Hartnell? Not as much as you used to, right? That’s because Simmonds is the guy who replaced Hartsy in the paint on the first-unit power play and plays a regular role on a top line.

“Obviously, way bigger role,” he said, looking back. “Went from a checking-line guy to an offensive guy and kind of coming back to being that full 200-foot player. It’s an evolution.”

Hakstol added to Simmonds’ role this season by using him on the penalty kill, something he had not done since his first year in L.A.

Simmonds logged 1:26 shorthanded minutes in the first period against Toronto and used the momentum of a big four-minute challenge by scoring a goal on his first shift off the kill at even strength (see story).

Hakstol added that role this season after speaking with assistant Ian Laperriere, who runs the penalty kill.

“I think we talked about a lot of different things with him,” Hakstol said. “It was Lappy who thought he had a lot of good attributes to be a penalty killer.

“I think he does. He skates well. He has a very good stick. He is very competitive. Probably the biggest thing, he wanted to be on the penalty kill. I think this year he has shown that he takes a lot of pride in it, and that’s a big part of killing penalties. You have to take pride in that role.”

It all goes to Simmonds’ comfort level here and that didn’t happen overnight. He hid his emotions well when he first arrived as a 23-year-old.

“I was pretty down after being traded,” Simmonds recalled. “Your first organization. The team that drafted you and cultivated you and most of your game. It sucks. You have friends there, roots you built in the community. Bonds that formed.”

People reached out to tell him what the Flyers were all about — how Ed Snider treated his players as family, not just employees, how everything here was top notch.

In many ways, the Flyers from the get-go have always operated as if they were an original six and not part of the league’s first expansion.

“To come to an organization like the Flyers, I knew they were a first-class organization,” Simmonds said. “A lot of guys [in L.A.] had come from Philly. [Gave me] a lot of good insight about Philly. Didn’t take me long to realize that Philly was awesome and a first-rate organization to go to.”

As sometimes happens with trades, Simmonds first heard of it through the Flyers when then-general manager Paul Holmgren called him.

“Homer called me and I was at my uncle’s cottage in PEI,” said Simmonds, referring to Prince Edward Island. “My [cell] reception there was shoddy. Talked to Homer a bit, got my information on the flight.”

Ron Hextall, the Kings' assistant GM, was next, followed by GM Dean Lombardi.

“Not much was said between me and Hexy and Dean or I,” Simmonds said. “Thank you for what you’ve done. I appreciated the chance I got in L.A. Just moving on."

During the six years here as a Flyer, Simmonds said he’s never had a chance to chat with Lombardi and thank him for giving him his first NHL job.

That may or may not happen this weekend in L.A. Simmonds is hoping it does.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and have an actual conversation,” he said. “He did a lot for me. Obviously, gave me an opportunity. To make the team as a first-year pro. I was 20. I definitely have an appreciation toward him.”

Simmonds became engaged during the recent bye week. His fiancé, Crystal, will accompany him this weekend.

“Obviously, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I started dating her my last year I was in L.A. She got out there one or two times. This is a chance for her to enjoy it.”

And as much as Simmonds would like to reacquaint himself with the town a bit, he can’t.

“No plans,” he said. “I got my schedule from the All-Star committee and it’s pretty much that.”

Ed Snider statue a special reminder for Flyers and so many more

Ed Snider statue a special reminder for Flyers and so many more

Boldly, Ed Snider will forever stand stoic and distinguished overlooking the empire he created — an iconic portrayal of a pioneer entrepreneur who exuded authority and resolve.

A statue commemorating the late Flyers founder and Comcast Spectacor chairman was unveiled Thursday, facing the southwest corner of Broad Street between the Wells Fargo Center and the previous location of The Spectrum, his two homes away from home.

“Not just the likeness but the character of Dad is so incredibly real in this sculpture that it’s almost scary,” Snider's oldest daughter Lindy Snider said. “You can see his focused and determined look and that drive in him, and we kids always called it ‘The Eye.’ And believe me, it was very scary.”  

The ceremony was attended by an impressive list of dignitaries, including a long list of "Broad Street Bullies," Hockey Hall of Famers and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

“He was a consummate ball of energy,” Bettman said. “Ironically, his memory will stand here idly for us all to see and to remember because he was a man who was constantly, constantly in motion, and that’s how I will always think of him and remember him.”

Philadelphia will now remember him always in the perfect spot.

“Ed Snider was a visionary,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “What a fitting place for the Mr. Snider statue to be on this piece of property where he can overlook his building here, The Spectrum was behind him, and this area he envisioned — that he built for all of us.” 

For the city of Philadelphia, it has an equivalency to the Blarney Stone. Snider's family requested the inclusion of a Stanley Cup ring on Snider’s finger so fans could pay tribute to the legendary owner by rubbing the ring as a good luck charm.  

Unintentionally, but certainly symbolic, Snider has his back turned to the direction of New York, home to the Rangers team he and so many of the players despised for decades.

“We all hated the Rangers in those days, probably still do,” Bob Clarke said with a laugh. “It’s a beautiful statue. It represents him so well, everything that he stood for and accomplished."

From Clarke to Bernie Parent hoisting the Stanley Cup, to Gary Dornhoefer’s legendary goal in the 1973 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” all of those statues located throughout the sports complex wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for Snider’s dogged determination to bring the game of hockey to the Delaware Valley in the 1960s. 

Dillsburg, Pennsylvania’s Chad Fisher commissioned the 1,300-pound bronze statue that stands on a three-foot granite base, and over the last seven weeks it became a labor of love, working endlessly seven days a week, 12 hours a day to ensure the project’s completion.

“You’re closing in and everything needs to be solidified and you've got to look over everything,” Fisher said. “It gets very intense in the end.” 

Three and a half years ago, the 34-year-old Fisher unveiled his meticulous representation of former Flyers head coach Fred “The Fog” Shero located just outside XFINITY Live! right off Ed Snider Way. One man called upon to create a likeness of the two most influential figures in the 51-year history of the Flyers franchise. 

“We had a chance to meet with Mr. Snider during the Fred Shero unveiling, and he was so gracious to my family and I, especially my kids,” Fisher said. “This was more than just a statue. It was really a chance to do this for someone who meant something, not only to this city, but to me and my family. He really gave us our start.”

For then general managers Clarke and Holmgren, who strived to bring “one more cup” to Snider, they know the chairman would be proud of the team current GM Ron Hextall has assembled behind an organizational approach that has been radically amended over the past few years. 

“It’s not only a terrific honor, but it’s fitting and somehow it’s comforting,” Lindy Snider said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s been watching over us all along anyway, and Paul, especially you. He wants a Stanley Cup, and the pressure’s on and you’re not off the hook.”

And now there’s a likeness of Mr. Snider that will forever serve as that constant reminder.

Flyers-Predators observations: Offense finally cools off in shutout

Flyers-Predators observations: Offense finally cools off in shutout

BOX SCORE

Nine days after an electrifying and yet controversial finish at Bridgestone Arena, the Flyers and Predators left all the offensive fireworks back in Nashville.

The Wells Fargo Center crowd Thursday was treated to a ho-hum defensive duel that saw the Predators prevail, 1-0, to sweep the season series.

Third-line center Colton Sissons, who did not play in the first game between these two teams, fired a slap shot that beat Michal Neuvirth far post during the third period.

Pekka Rinne stopped all 28 shots for his second win over the Flyers this season.

• Sissons' goal was the result of a multitude of breakdowns. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald got tied up on the play. Wayne Simmonds, who was playing back, whiffed as he tried to play the puck on Kevin Fiala, and from there the Flyers were in disarray. Valtteri Filppula couldn’t keep up with Sissons, who loaded the shot that beat Neuvirth.

• Neuvirth has one win in his three starts. Then again, victories are hard to come by when the Flyers are shut out in two of those games. The other occasion was was Oct. 5 in Los Angeles, a 2-0 loss to the Kings.

• Dave Hakstol did quite a bit of mixing and matching in the third period. He paired Scott Laughton with Simmonds and Filppula, Simmonds with Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick, and a Laughton-Konecny-Patrick combo.

• Overall, this was Travis Sanheim’s best effort through four NHL games. While he proved to be turnover-prone at times, he recovered nicely to minimize the damage.

• Simmonds left Tuesday’s game against Florida with a lower-body injury and was uncertain to play prior to the morning skate. “The Wayne Train” hadn’t missed a game since he suffered a leg injury at the end of the 2014-15 season. Whatever the ailment, and it appears to be midsection related, Simmonds clearly wasn’t himself and didn’t quite have the same tenacity he usually brings.

• Simmonds missed a shift early in the second and left the bench, only to return late in the period when he took a 15-second shift and came back off. If Simmonds doesn’t improve by Saturday afternoon’s game against the Oilers, we may see Matt Read for the first time this season.

• Predators defenseman P.K. Subban still receives a smattering of boos from the Wells Fargo Center crowd. With Nashville making just one trip to Philadelphia every season, you have to think the animosity toward Subban is a residual from his days with Montreal when his feistiness would conflict with former Flyer Chris Pronger. 

• He missed the first meeting at Bridgestone Arena nine days ago, but you can see what Roman Josi brings to the Predators’ blue line. Arguably Nashville’s top two-way defenseman (although I really like Mattias Ekholm), Josi led the Preds with four shots on goal after two periods, and has a real knack of finding the open seams in the defense. 

• I completely agreed with Hakstol’s decision to insert Jori Lehtera right into the spot occupied by Jordan Weal (see below). With the offensive balance we’ve seen over the past several games, why disrupt the flow and chemistry of the other three lines to accomomdate one player? 

Weal out, Read recalled
After taking the ice in the morning skate, Weal was not available for the game against the Predators. Weal suffered an upper-body injury and is considered day to day. The Flyers also recalled Read from Lehigh Valley in a move that brought the Flyers’ active roster to 23 players.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Brandon Manning, Matt Read, Jordan Weal.