Each day leading up to Sept. 14, the official start of Flyers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.
PINE HILL, N.J. — Take one good look at Wayne Simmonds and you see how much he has given to the organization and community.
His four front teeth still haven’t been replaced and the scars around his lips and cheeks are battle wounds from the countless fights and high sticks he has taken over the years, whether he’s standing his ground or just protecting a teammate.
Kids who follow the Flyers and have learned the game of hockey through the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation surround Simmonds as if he’s the last standing reservoir in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
Inner-city kids see themselves in Simmonds, and a beacon of hope that anything is achievable.
“He is someone who didn’t necessarily have a privileged childhood himself and so he really relates to the kids,” Scott Tharp, CEO of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, said this week. “He’s visited our rinks on numerous occasions and when he does he just lights up the rink. If you asked our kids who their favorite Flyer is, probably 80 percent of them would say Wayne Simmonds.”
Fittingly, Simmonds serves on the foundation’s board of directors and he’s also a co-chair of the golf tournament held this past Tuesday. Those duties along with Simmonds' Road Hockey Warriors — his charity in the Toronto area — inspire underprivileged youth to achieve their hockey dreams. Simmonds' philanthropic efforts made him the first Flyer to be named a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
Unfortunately, all of Simmonds' goodwill, leadership and popularity will very little benefit his case when it comes to contract negotiations, in which each side is looking out for their best interests. For Simmonds, it’s securing a long-term future as he enters the final year of his current six-year contract. For the Flyers, it’s finding a framework of a deal that won’t weigh down the franchise as it navigates the salary cap.
“That’s for my agent and Hexy (Flyers general manager Ron Hextall) to figure out. It is what it is. It’s completely different,” Simmonds said. “You play hockey because you love the sport, and then the business comes in and the business part of hockey is separate. What you do in the community and trying to help the kids out is something completely different.”
In their brief discussions so far, Simmonds' agent Eustace King of O2K Management and Hextall have yet to find that common ground beneficial to both sides.
“For me, it’s just about playing the game I love and continuing to succeed at it,” Simmonds said. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop contributing to the community. It’s somewhere that I’ve been for a long time. Obviously I feel a part of it and it is what it is. I’m still not going to stop doing what I do.”
Simmonds has seen recently how the business side of hockey ultimately overrides all of the goodwill in the community after the Montreal Canadiens traded Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights. The former Habs captain was highly lauded for his work in the Montreal area through the establishment of the Max Pacioretty Foundation, which has led the way in the treatment and research of concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Simmonds believes giving back to the community he calls home is an unwavering commitment.
“I think we’re blessed to be in a position where we can help kids out," he said. "I think when you’re in a position like that, I think you kind of have to do it. For me, being in this position, if I didn’t, I’d probably feel bad. If you’re able to give back, you give back. I think that’s only right.”