Donnellon: Flyers hit jackpot with Simmonds trade

Wayne Simmonds Flyer Wives 022116 AE1CAFLYS6
Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers signs a child's shirt at the Flyers Wives Building Hope for Kids annual event on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016 in Philadelphia.

Everybody gets a trophy.

Any trade in any sport, regardless of how it looks then or later, is couched this way. The players leaving are the price you pay for the players coming, and they all should feel complimented that they've been exchanged for one another.

Except that they don't. At least Wayne Simmonds didn't. When the Los Angeles Kings dealt Brayden Schenn and him to the Flyers for Mike Richards in the summer of 2011, he reacted with the same volatility that marked his first four seasons of play here.

"It hurts," he said. "You take offense to that. You think you are no longer good enough to be on that team.

"All you want to do is to go out there, prove yourself, and make them look stupid. That was my goal from Day 1."

Six seasons and more than 1,000 days later, he has covered that first part and has presented a compelling argument to the second, especially this season. Four goals in his last two games, scored in a variety of ways, have pushed the right winger's goal total to 15, a pace that would shatter his career high of 32, set only last season. Additionally, his physical play and feared fighting ability have all but eliminated the need for an unproductive goon on the current squad - although, as Simmonds himself will tell you, his decisions to drop the gloves have to be more judicious now than in the more impetuous and less productive days of his past.

With Jake Voracek, he is also one of the more prominent and frank voices in the Flyers' dressing room, and clearly among its most respected.

"It doesn't take you very long to be around Simmer to sense that presence, right?" said Dave Hakstol, in his second season as Flyers coach. "You don't have to hear him speak to the group or anything like that. He walks in the room, he has that presence. And he carries himself very well."

You see the irony, right? Acquired for his leadership and grit, Richards was a needed piece to the Kings' first Stanley Cup championship in 2012. By the time they won their second in 2014, however, he had severely declined as a player - and as a leader - because of what was later found to be substance abuse.

He is now out of the league, at age 31.

Over that same stretch, Simmonds, 28, has become a player few saw coming, even those who made the deal. Both Ron Hextall and Paul Holmgren, on opposite ends of the trade at the time, knew they were dealing and getting a good player. They didn't know they were dealing or getting this player.

"We were looking to get bigger and we knew about his background," Holmgren said Wednesday. "We were thinking that hopefully he could play in the upper part of our lineup. But the leadership part is always hard to figure out. You can connect the dots, but it's still a roll of the dice. I think Wayne has really grown a lot from one of those guys who could fly off the handle during games to where he's kind of controlled that. That's a credit to Wayne. He's grown as a player and as a person."

Entering Wednesday's games, only two players had more goals this season, and he is among the NHL points leaders as well. He kills penalties, and eight of his goals have come on power plays.

"My opinion, best front guy in the league," Schenn said. "He gets his stick on everything."

So why, then, no All-Star love? Simmonds believes it's because, "I'm not flashy," and there's some truth to that. His goals often come amid flopping bodies - not the stuff of highlight reels.

"He's not the guy getting the pretty goals," Schenn said. "At the same time, he has a lot of skill that people should see but don't. He has great hands, especially around the net. People just think he's this big lanky guy who gets to a lot of pucks and stands in front of the net. But it takes a lot of hand-eye coordination to convert those pucks into goals."

"It's OK, though," Simmonds said. "I don't want to be in the shine. I just want to be a guy who's able to help his team win in any situation."

He is that. And so the obvious question is this: Would Wayne Simmonds be that guy if he was still playing on the other coast?

"I don't think so," he said. "Not at all. I don't think I would be the player I am today without that trade. It allowed me to explore other parts of my game . . .

"When I was in LA, I wasn't counted on to be on the ice for all situations. I had that mentality that I could go out there, do something stupid and the team wasn't really going to miss me. Now, I kind of have more ownership of this team . . . And I realize it's probably better off for me to be on the ice than to be in the box."


donnels@phillynews.com

@samdonnellon

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